(Anis Charania on the left with his wife Rizwana on the right holding their granddaughter)
A mom-and-pop shop in Decatur, Ga was devastated when COVID-19 turned a first generation Pakistani American’s retirement plan into a pipe dream within minutes.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before. For the first time since we opened, the business that fed my wife and kids for 20 years went into the red” says Anis Charania.
Anis’s wife Rizwana says “We thought we had seen the worst with the earthquakes & protests when we lived in LA in the 80 and 90s”, I never imagined something like this”.
Anis and Rizwana Charania first immigrated to the United States from Karachi, Pakistan and landed at LAX in the 80’s with the same dream as many others, to build a life in America. The couple started their life from the bottom. Anis starting his career as a grocery store clerk at just $2/hr then various jobs such as Jack N The Box, Subway, Macy’s (previously called May Company), and even as an unarmed security guard. Rizwana turned to clothes, working at a dry cleaners, taking every extra shift she could even during her pregnancy to save every extra dollar.
They put those savings to good use in 2001. Rizwana’s brothers in Texas had started importing clothes from India and Pakistan and set up shop in Texas. They advised the couple to do the same in an untapped market, Atlanta, Ga.
After months of hard work, they finally secured a business loan, a line of credit from factories in India & Pakistan, and a rental 7,000 sq ft retail space in Suburban Plaza, in North Decatur, Ga.
By using celebrity promotions and store wide sales, the business was an immediate success. Lines sprawled across the store with Atlanta’s fashion hungry Indian & Pakistani population waiting to pay for their next fashion fix.
When opportunity came to buy real estate nearby in 2011, the couple quickly jumped at it by securing a modest 3,000 sq ft showroom across the street.
The couple then worked for the last decade to build back up the client base that they had lost from moving across the street.
Just when thing started to look bright, fate had other plans.
March 15th 2020, the register closed at $1, again. The $1 deposited by Anis as he vowed to his family to never come home empty handed.
COVID was rampant, and even though Anis is high risk due to having Diabetes & hypertension, as soon as the stay at home order was lifted, Anis was back at the store.
Day after day, Anis went to the store to spend time with employees and every now and then, they’d see a familiar face asking if they were open.
May 1st, 2021. Anis arrived at the store with his family an hour before opening.
This time was different, this time they had to make a decision. A decision to close down the store completely or keep it running at a loss to make sure the employees don’t lose their pay.
During this discussion, his son, Ahsan brought up the idea that he had been pitching for the last 10 years, to start selling online.
After discussing how they’d afford to do this, they realized, Why not teach the sales people to photograph inventory and upload them to the website? That way, they keep their hours, aren’t just sitting around all day, and we offset the high cost of hiring a website department.
Ahsan, who runs a digital marketing service for auto dealerships, Lead Foot Digital, made quick work of getting the store online. With his experience with building websites and paid advertising, he knew that if they could get the inventory photographed, he would be able to sell it online.
The family set up a quick photo studio inside the store using basic equipment and trained the staff how to upload items.
Ahsan worked day and night to get a site ready. Just 5 days later, the e-commerce store was live, the team was trained, and the first items were being uploaded.
Sales associates just turned into a website team, photographing & uploading as many as 100 products a day and Miragesarees.com was ready to accept orders.
Fast forward 1 year later till August 1, 2021. The stores website is loaded with thousands of Indian & Pakistani outfits for men and women, jewelry, and accessories with more being added daily.
The small mom & pop shop is processing orders from customers all over the country. The transition from brick & mortar to the online world is complete and sales are rebounding due to the economy reopening.
One thing is for certain, this move paid off for the Mirage Sarees family.