PARIS — When Nisar and Qamar “Zee” Khan moved 7,000 miles from Dehli, India to South Paris in 1974, the most surprising thing wasn’t the language or snow, they said.
“We were so welcomed here,” Nisar said, walking through the darkened aisles of the Handy Store they’ve owned for 26 years.
Nisar, 79, and “Zee,” 70, are retiring and have sold the East Main Street business to locals Mike Smith and David Haskell.
Smith, 52, said he and Haskell jumped at the chance to have their own business after walking into the store and meeting the Khans. The new store will keep the convenience store feel while focusing on making foods from scratch.
“It was a pipe dream between Dave and I. One day I walked through the door and he [Nisar] asked if I wanted to buy it,” Smith said.
“We want people to remember this is the Handy Store, but we want to put our own name on it. We were drawn to this store because of the success it’s had over the past 26 years,” he said.
The store will be named Doughboys Variety.
What’s not changing are the hours. For almost three decades the Khans were stalwart workers, opening everyday at 6 a.m. and working until 9 p.m.
After he first arrived in the country 40 years ago, Nisar worked as a medical technologist for 15 years at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway. One day, he decided he was ready for a change. Zee, who walked by the store, used to tell herself she’d own the store one day.
“It was my dream come true to buy this store with my husband,” she said.
They left behind what Zee called a “hard life” in India and became U.S. citizens in 1978. They said the U.S. is where they consider home, and cherish the reward for hard work.
“There’s so much opportunity in America if you want to work hard. It won’t come easy, but the chance is there,” Nisar said.
Over the years, they remember the highlights of owning a store in a town where people know each other. Zee recalled twice selling winning lottery tickets — for $1.2 million and $9 million — watching children grow up and dispensing friendly advice.
“Mothers would say to me: ‘Zee, I’m having a hard time with my daughter’. And I’d say, ‘Oh, don’t worry everything will be fine,’ and they’d always come back to tell me it did.”
The chef who made the pizzas and subs, Zee said she’ll most miss the camaraderie of the customers, who she called family, and the faces she grew accustomed to seeing over the years.
“Once someone eats our pizza, they won’t go anywhere else. People who move away still come back just for it,” Nisar said.
Now, they’re ready to visit friends and their family, which has spread across the country to the West Coast. The couple has three boys, all doctors, three daughters-in-law and six grandchildren.
“I don’t know what our future will be like. Why worry. We don’t worry. We look at life everyday and say, ‘why not be happy.'” Zee said.