Joonus Sait and Sons which has catered to customers for more than a century remains the last word in woollen wear

When there’s a heavy downpour, Joonus Sait and Sons is a good place to be stranded in. You could either wait or more logically buy a raincoat and a pair of boots so you can brave the rains. But chances are, by the time you are done choosing from their diverse options, the rain might just stop.

This building that’s been around since 1905, is well known primarily for its winter wear. Ironic for a shop specialising in woollens to do well in a hot city like Chennai, right? “Not at all,” says Usman Sait. “We have customers coming in throughout the year. College students flying abroad for education come to us for warm clothes. Then there are holiday-goers travelling to cold places, pilgrims going to Kedarnath, Badrinath. The rainy season keeps us busy too.” Our conversation is interrupted by two men who want to know which snow-proof jacket would be most effective in Russia. It’s barely noon and the two- storeyed store is already brimming with people. “Had you come before cyclone Nilam there wouldn’t have been any space to even stand,” says Usman.

Usman is the third generation entrepreneur of this family business which was started by his great-grandfather Joonus Sait. Originally from Bellary district in Karnataka, the family moved to Madras following an outbreak of cholera. We started out by selling rayon and silk material, suits and shirts. We had a tailoring unit and used to stitch drapes and barrister coats,” says Usman. One would think that the proximity to the Madras High Court would sustain the tailoring unit, it did, but surprisingly the high demand for woollen clothes led Joonus Sait to specialise in woollen wear. “Back then monkey caps were what we sold the most,” he recollects.

Usman was 15 when he first started assisting his father at the store. He took over the business in the 1980s. “Earlier, a sweater used to cost Rs. 35. Now with the cost of materials and labour going up a sweater costs Rs. 500 upwards. Even the area has undergone changes. Rattan Bazaar earlier known as China Bazaar was one of the popular shopping spots in the city. In spite of the numerous malls in the city loyal patrons continue to shop with us.”

Usman’s son Naumaan too helps with the family business now. He takes care of their store in Purasaiwalkam. “As the fifth generation entrepreneur I try and bring about changes. I travel a lot to see what’s in vogue in other countries. Most people are of the mindset that thick woollen clothes are more effective. But the thinner variety is in, it’s easy to carry and just as effective,” he says adding, “Brand conscious people are a challenge but we have brought in new designs, new colours and we work with our suppliers and incorporate new trends.”

This building that witnessed the turn of a century had to be renovated five years ago. “There were a few cracks which we got fixed. The wooden steps have been replaced with mortar ones and the low ceiling has been raised. But the façade is still the same and so is the passion with which we carry on our business,” says Usman.

In its 107th year, Joonus Sait and Sons is situated on a road that houses numerous other survivors of time such as Ebrahim Currim and Sons and Currimbhoys. How did the store manage to survive this long? “It’s the quality of our goods and the personal touch,” he says. “Just like how generations have taken care of this business, there are customers who have shopped with us for generations and continue to do so.”