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That name 'Billmoria'

Solomoni Biumaiono
Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mahesh Billmoria is a self-made man. His shoe shop in the middle of Ba Town is one of the very first shoe shops in the cane belt town.

In Ba Town, the Billmoria name is synonymous with shoes, saddles and leather and has been the main shoe repair shop for many of the town's soccer players.

Billmoria was born in India in 1949 and came with his mother to Fiji in 1951. They followed their father who had come in earlier to start his business in Ba.

Billmoria said his father was a first generation businessman in Ba Town, who was part of the Indian pioneering businessmen who came to Fiji in the middle of the 20th century to seek their fortune and start a new life.

"My father was one of the first Indian businessmen in the town, this was during the days when the Europeans were running the country," he said.

His father ran a shoe repair shop although their main business was making and selling horse saddles which was a necessity in Ba at the time, as horses were still the main mode of transportation for the locals, especially the sugarcane farmers and iTaukei who live in villages in the interior of Ba.

Apart from this, the Billmoria Shoe Shop used to make a special and unique contraption which is used by iTaukei villagers in the interior of Ba to carry their crops, goods and shopping to and from Ba Town.

Called the drekedreke this contraption is worn by a person carrying heavy load on the shoulders. Billmoria says this is made entirely of leather.

"We only used to repair shoes back at the time and the only kind of shoes that we made were sandals, but apart from that, we made saddles."

"But one thing I learnt from my father was how to treat my customers well. He usually gave me these lessons while he worked on a shoe or saddle, and he would talk to me while doing his work," Billmoria said.

When he arrived in Fiji, Billmoria was enrolled straight into Saint Theresa Primary School in Ba where he launched into his education while making new friends and adopting life in his new home and country.

But as fate had it, Billmoria did not finish his education. He dropped out at class eight in the late 1960s because he had to take over his father's business.

"I couldn't go to high school because my father injured himself, he fractured his leg and I had to go and look after the shop while he was in hospital and that's what I have been doing ever since," he says.

But life was just an adventure to Billmoria. He took on the business and the missed education opportunity in his stride several decades ago. The Billmoria shoe shop is still operating and it is a testimony to his strong will.

After his father died, he took over and since then, has been running the shoe shop through the many floods, hurricanes and tough business climates.

"I lived through many eras in this town and know a lot about people and businesses here," Billmoria says.

"That was back in the time when Ba used to produce renowned boxers or during the time of the CSR in Fiji and most recently when the town started producing soccer players," he said.

Today, at 63, Billmoria shows no signs of slowing down It's business as usual, as he takes every day as it comes.

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