It has a tiny entrance that opens into a cavern of Middle Eastern goods, rows of spices and quality fresh fruit and veg. Nour Cash & Carry is 10 years old and remains one of the busiest and most popular shops in Market Row. We met with Saja Shaheen, 25, and her 22 year-old sister Nour – the shop’s namesake – to hear about the family business
Saja: “We came to this country in the 1990s from Iran. Our parents are from Iraq but Saddam kicked them out and then we came here when the Second Gulf War happened. Dad came straight to Brixton and worked in a shop in Brixton Market for some years. Then in 1997 he opened a shop, Bargain Food Stores, a couple of doors down. The lease came up, but we thought Brixton is the place for us and Bargain Food Stores did so well, so in 2002 we moved to Nour and we’ve been there for ten years now, and hopefully still going strong. We’ve still got a lot of our original customers.
As hard as it was for my parents when they first came, I think they always felt like they fitted in here. I think because it’s so culturally diverse, it wasn’t as big a shock as it would have been moving to another area. Brixton’s so lively it just doesn’t get boring, so I think he just thought, ‘this is it’. After Bargain Food Stores closed down, we moved to Scotland for a little while and Dad had a restaurant. But he came back here after a while. It just wasn’t for him. His heart’s always been in Brixton.
After I finished my MA I started working in the charity sector, so I kind of filter in and out of the shop every so often. My mum works there and Dad so it’s a proper family-run business. My younger sister Sam did her work experience there and she saw old teachers and friends that coincidentally shop there. It’s so diverse, the demographic’s just so broad.
Nour: “You have the elderly customers, they come in, have little chats with you. You get the louder ones, they’re really entertaining.”
Saja: “The older ones tell you about all their problems and how ‘my leg hurts today.’”
Nour: “But it’s nice, it’s like a family. They come in and say, ‘we only came into see you.’”
Saja: “Some of them just literally come in for a chat. It’s lovely that people come so far. We actually get people that come out of London, come to the shop every Sunday and do their shopping.
“I’m quite proud of the fact that we sell good quality, fresh fruit and veg and I think that’s mainly what we’re known for, but also I think we stock a lot of products. Our spice aisle, I think, is pretty amazing. Even I’m surprised sometimes by some of the things we stock.
The shop is so narrow. It’s quite deceptive. I always say to my friends when they ask where the shop is, that it looks absolutely tiny and it’s narrow, but it opens up to this huge hideaway almost. I think people do like the layout and we’ve spoken about changing it, but I think it works. I think people like the way it is. You can find something in every corner.
Foodie people come a lot in the evenings after they’ve finished work. We do get the restaurants as well around Brixton Market and in the village as well. They always come in – people like Rosie come in and pick up their usuals. And there are mango enthusiasts.
Brixton’s changed so much, hasn’t it? We’ve always loved Brixton, but I think when we were younger we used to say, ‘Dad has a shop in Brixton’ and there was always a bit of ‘ooh, Brixton’s not safe’. And we always used to say ‘no it’s not like that at all!’ But now, it’s changed so much. It’s so trendy now and all my friends are now saying they went to Brixton Market and to Honest Burgers and we went here there and everywhere. I’m like, ‘hello? I’ve been saying this for ages!’
I think the change is really, really good. I think if it’s possible, it’s even more diverse now and it’s got so much life to it. I personally feel so safe in Brixton. At any time of day, I just feel safe. I think because everybody knows us as well. I think because it’s home for us, we really appreciate the changes as well.
The first thing we always do when we come back from holiday is come for a coffee and a gossip and a bitch at Rosie’s Deli. I love walking through the market, especially when you come back from holiday it’s like ‘I’m home now, I’m in Brixton’.
We both still live at home. That’s our Middle Eastern thing. You can’t leave! But I think it’s great. Because we’re so close as a family, it just works out.
Our family work like this – if someone has a dream about a name they will proceed in calling the child that name.”
Nour: “Gran dreamed me and then someone dreamed that the shop was called Nour.”
Saja: “Nour means ‘light’ and it’s one of the names for God so it felt like a good omen.
“Dad goes to Covent Garden market every night. He works so hard. he takes my younger sister to school, even though she is 17 and doesn’t need it. Then he’s at work at 9am, home at 8.30pm. He sleeps for three to four hours, if there’s no football on! And then goes to the market to get the fruit and veg for the shop. And then he sleeps a bit more and then back to the shop. On Christmas Day we have to make him stay at home, he wanted to open one year.
He lives to work, that’s Dad. He once had to have an operation and the next day, he wasn’t allowed to work, he told Mum he was going for a walk and then turned up at the shop. He loves it – he comes alive. I know he’s so quiet, but he feels Brixton is his home and he opens up, he laughs, he talks to regulars. If we want to see him we have to go to the shop!
It has been a massive part of his life. The one stable thing he’s had after all that moving around and uncertainty.”
Interview by Zoe Jewell
Photos by Jeannine Mansell