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Shields Market: Memories Linger, But Business Is Fading

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It was a cold December, more than a decade ago. With snow piled 18 inches deep -- deeper in drifts — some Fan residents were donning cross-country skis to get around.

I was a perpetual sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University, and it would be four days before I found my car again.

After my eight-block walk to and from class in a pair of duct-taped sneakers, Daksha Patel was a vision. All smiles, she helped defrost my mood when I paid her for my usual six-pack of Black Label Beer and loaf of wheat bread.

Daksha and her husband, "Sam" Patel, opened Shields Market on Shields Avenue across from Joe's Inn nearly 18 years ago, after moving to Richmond from India by way of New York City. It was their dream to own their own business, their own home. Her smile that cold December day spoke of a dream fulfilled.

Daksha died a year ago in July, and with her, it seems, the Patels' reverie.

Now, faced with steeply declining business that he blames on a recent condo conversion of the old Fan Square Apartments (I lived in a second-floor corner unit) and a rise in rent, Sam Patel says he'll shutter the store at the end of this month.

"It's hard to lose it," says Patel, whose eyes rim with tears thinking about the end of this thing he built with his wife. Cancer took Daksha suddenly: "A lot of customers are really missing her."

And it seems each day Patel is missing more customers. They rarely come in, knowing the shelves once stocked full with cans of Vienna sausages and hominy (who eats that stuff?) are now half-full. The glass-front refrigerators lining one wall broke down last week, meaning they can't get cold beer.

"My bad luck just isn't running out," Patel says.

The refrigerator is fixable, but it's a tossup whether he can afford repairs and the $2,200 for September's rent that his landlord is insisting he pay, even though he'll have already locked the doors for the last time.

I found out last week Shields Market would be closing. News, ironically, came the same day powerful thunderstorms wreaked havoc on the North Side neighborhood where I moved 10 years ago.

That same morning I'd thought fondly of the market, where 10 years ago I'd have gone for ice to keep my refrigerator cool. Where I might have walked to grab a cold six-pack to cut the humidity while Virginia Power crews worked to restore my power — and AC.

Where I would have minded less the sweltering heat if I could have been greeted again by Daksha's warm smile. S



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