From India to America with $6 and a Bag of Snacks —35 Years Later He Owns 12 Drug Stores
“Positive outlook, hard work, and straight direction with goals: that is a success formula,” said Dipak Shah, the owner of Saldo Drugs on 384 Graham Avenue in Williamsburg Brooklyn. He is also a pharmacist and therefore knows more than a few things about healthy formulas. Owning one store would be considered successful to many, but Mr. Shah owns 11 other drugstores of various names.
He smiles and his eyes hold happy wonder when he tells the story of coming to America from India with just $6 dollars in his pocket, a suitcase of clothes, and a bag of snacks his mother insisted on giving him, in case he got hungry during his travels. Fortunately he wasn’t all alone once he got to America, a cousin and a couple of friends were already living here.
“My first job paid me $2.35 an hour and my first paycheck totaled $85 for a week,” he says this with a slight chuckle. Then about five years later he bought his first drug store in 1982 while in school to be a pharmacist, and he became a licensed pharmacist in 1983 expanding his capabilities with the business.
I asked Mr. Shah why he chose the pharmacy/drugstore owner professions. He said that as he was growing up he’d watched and learned from his father how to spot a business that had a good growth potential. His father was a grain merchant in India who left his village for the city when he was 17-18 years-old and saw some success but also faced some struggles. His father also instilled the importance of an education in all his children. Dipak Shah has six brothers and no sisters. His father passed away in 1972 before Dipak came to America.
Mr. Shah chose Jersey City, New Jersey as his first home base in America. After working and living here for a year he sent for his wife, and they shared a one bedroom apartment. He received success in gradual increments; there were many struggles in the first eight years. Their family would grow to include three children and move into a larger home.
Dipak Shah purchased Saldo Drugs in 1995. It was already a mainstay of the neighborhood as it had been there fifty or so years prior, so the name of the store stayed, which was a combo of the two original owners’ first names: Salvatore and Dominick. In 1999, Mr. Shah purchased the building and renovated the store to be in the model of a mini CVS store. Saldo Drugs offers free delivery to all customers, has extended hours, a well-trained staff who each have worked in the store for many years.
Mr. Shah built a foundation of respect when building his business. Respect for the best practices, respect for the laws and regulation, respect for his staff and his customers. He treats his customers like family — when taking the picture outside the store two customers passed by and happily greeted Mr. Shah showing that the family feeling is mutual.
Furthermore, Dipak Shah is strongly committed to social work in the communities where he holds businesses, lives, and where he came from. The impulse to help has been in his nature since he was a young boy. He remembers his mother always gave the first bite of food or bread to a cow or dog before she ate, and this measure of compassion stuck with him. He believes in giving at least 10% of his income back to the community or charity. Many in North Brooklyn may know Mr. Shah more from his generosity, for instance, this last Christmas marked the 15th year he sponsored the Christmas Dinner at Jennings Hall.
Marie Leanza, Senior Property Manager at Jennings Hall, commented on Mr. Shah’s generosity, “For over ten years Mr.Shah has given a Christmas dinner to Jennings Hall and 609 Metropolitan Avenue plus invited residents of Monsignor Vetro. His entire staff joins in helping make the event a success. The residents of the senior buildings look forward to the Christmas Party.”
Mr. Shah is dedicated to promoting the Indian community in the Tri-State area and Pennsylvania. Last year he was appointed Director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan USA an Institute of Indian Culture that teaches Hindi, computer training, acting, music, and dance, as well as presenting enriching performances.
Dipak Shah strengthens his tie to India in India. 5–6 years ago he built the Maniba Bhavan Cultural Center that is dedicated to educating the community in Ahmedabad. This center recognizes both his parents as it is named after his mother and honors his father’s conviction about the necessity of education. Recently Prime Minister Modi honored Mr. Shah’s efforts in helping India, and as Mr. Shah travels to India two or three times a year they’ve built a strong acquaintance.
As Dipak Shah is 62 he does contemplate retirement sometimes. He says he thinks his son, who is a pharmacist and works with him in the business, will take over and even expand the business. On retiring, he says he plans to travel the world and take three or four different tours.