TOWNSEND/PEPPERELL — The Patel family is achieving the American dream.
Inch by inch, they have grown their family from a farm family, where children got their first pair of shoes when they were 8 or 9 years old, to a family that is working on buying their third small business.
Their secret is simple. “We work hard. We work really hard,” said Sunny Patel who, with his wife R.J. Patel, owns Townsend Package Store and Sunny’s Liquors in Pepperell.
After he was laid off from a job in electronic assembly, he wanted to make some money. He bought the Townsend business and buildings.
Running a successful retail operation means working 13- and 14-hour days, he said, while standing behind the immaculately clean counter in the Townsend store. A wide selection of liquors, beers and wines is always in stock.
When times get tough, the luxury goods like liquor are the first to be cut, Patel said. If he doesn’t have what people want at a price they are willing to pay, he will lose a customer. People are willing to travel a bit to get what they want.
If they do travel, they will miss meeting the Patels, who enjoy getting to know their customers. Walking into the store is a social occasion. R.J. asks people to come back and visit, even if they don’t drink.
Opening the Townsend store over three years ago and the Pepperell store two years ago are hard-won achievements.
Sunny arrived in the United States in 1993 as a young adult. He was sponsored by his parents, who immigrated in 1989. They, in turn, had been sponsored by other relatives, who arrived in the 1970s.
The Patels settled in Lowell, attracted by the existing Indian community and the factory jobs. When Sunny arrived, he could speak two languages, Gujarati and Hindi, and could read and write English.
The tight-knit community in Lowell helped each other, providing social connections and even transportation. There are about 200 Patel families in Lowell, Sunny said. It is a common name in Gujarat, much like Smith is here.
He worked two jobs, making between $5 and $7 an hour. Like his older relatives, he got his green card right away and became a citizen five years later. He was able to return to India to marry R.J., also a Patel, but from a different branch, and sponsor her to come to America.
Like her husband, she worked hard. A job packing produce and bagging at Market Basket was first, then she worked in the medical field.
She became a citizen, and sponsored her brother and parents. Now, her brother Alex works with Sunny and R.J. at the two stores.
With three people working, everyone has one day off during the week, Sunny said.
On Sunday morning, the family makes it a point to get outside and they often go picking at Lanni Orchards in Lunenburg. It gives them a time to talk with each other, Sunny said.
Living so far from family has its sorrows. Sunny sponsored his brother to come to the states, but the other man died before he could become a citizen. His wife and children remained behind in India, because they need to be sponsored by a blood relative.
Sunny holds out hope. His nephew was able to immigrate to Canada and plans to bring the rest of his family there.
R.J.’s father, Gary Patel, is in the process of buying the Old Brick Store in West Townsend. The family attended a recent selectmen’s meeting to talk about transferring the beer and wine license.
After buying the store in Pepperell, Sunny, R.J. and their daughter Riddhi moved to Townsend in the house attached to the liquor store. They were not able to rent it out, so they decided to live there, R.J. said.
Initially, R.J. was leery of the move. The family was settled in Westford and the thought of living in a more rural community made her apprehensive.
Making friends in Westford was difficult, Sunny said, and they thought it might be the same way in Townsend.
They are happy to say, things are different in Townsend and Pepperell. The friendly couple has gotten to know their neighbors and their customers. R.J. feels safe working in the store at night.
When their pet bunny ran away, they asked around for it. The animal was living comfortably in a neighbor’s house. When all was said and done, the bunny stayed with the neighbors who said Riddhi can visit anytime.
The Patels are happy with the new arrangement since the bunny spent a lot of time alone, R.J. said.
Riddhi is going into her first year of high school at North Middlesex and is trying out for the volley ball team. She can speak some Gujarati, but has a hard time with Hindi, Sunny said. She doesn’t always get the jokes in the movies right away.
The Townsend Package Store is located at 224 Main St., Townsend. Sunny’s Liquors is at 123 Main St., Pepperell.
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