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Another of Atul Shah’s big dreams tumbles

By Vincent Achuka and Michael Chepkwony | Published Sat, August 11th 2018 at 00:00, Updated August 11th 2018 at 09:00 GMT +3
Nakumatt former Managing Director Atul Shah stares as the Ukay Centre is demolished. August 10, 2018. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

In summary

  • Between 2008 and Friday, Nakumatt has lost three major stores, including Ukay, Downtown and Thika Road
  • Atul Shah estimates the loss from Ukay demolition at Sh125 million, says they will sue

Decked in a grey sweater and blue jeans with his right hand in the pocket and the other on his chin, Nakumatt former Managing Director Atul Shah must have wondered why his world was tumbling down as the green bulldozer roared through one of his seven remaining stores.

If that is how losing one more investment of 40 years of hard work looked like, then Atul, who appeared lost in thought as the demolition raged, wore the face of a man being kicked when he was already on the ground.

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From once managing an unstoppable empire spanning three countries that even dreamed of listing on the stock exchange, Friday was yet another episode of a never ending nightmare for the businessman.

He stood in one position, alone and staring sometimes to the sky and back to the bulldozers in disbelief. By this time last year, he had 64 supermarkets and presence in all major towns and in almost every respectable mall. Then the gods turned their backs on him.

Nakumatt Ukay, which was one of the casualties at Friday’s demolition, had operated from that spot for 25 years. So attached was Atul to this particular outlet that it was one of the remaining stores that he could not let go when things started tumbling down.

Just three weeks ago, the retail chain was running promotional advertisements on how Nakumatt Ukay has been restocked and is back to business. And on Wednesday, just two days to the demolition, he told the Saturday Standard there is no way Ukay Centre was coming down.

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“I am not in control of the situation but we have not been given a notice. Unless there is something you know,” he said.

“But by the way things are going we don’t know what will happen but we can’t move our stuff out. We just restocked recently.”

Friday, as the bulldozers tore down yet another of his over four decades of hard work, a visibly shocked Atulestimated his loss at Sh125 million. He said although some items had been salvaged, furniture, fittings and some other commodities were trapped in what remained of the building.

“I wish they had given us enough time to remove our things,” he lamented.

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“We will definitely seek legal redress.”

The demolition of the Ukay Centre was the fourth time unlucky for Shah in term of his stores being destroyed. A stone’s throw away from where the businessman was standing Friday, his Westgate store remained closed for over a year after Al Shabaab terrorists attacked the mall, killing moe than 60 people in 2013.

Four years earlier, Nakumatt Downtown on Kimathi Street was razed to the ground after an explosion, killing 29 people. An inquest to find out what exactly caused the fire is still ongoing eight years after the fire.

The last time the issue came for hearing in June, it was heard that a huge smoke engulfed the building before an explosion was heard from the basement. Atul is among the 120 witnesses listed by the state to testify. And in 2008, Nakumatt Thika Road was flattened to give way for the Thika Super Highway.

As if that is not enough, the former Nakumatt MD is among those set to be investigated for the loss of Sh18 billion worth of stock due to what was termed as shrinkage.

Nakumatt, which went into voluntary supervision in order to protect itself from creditors who were on its neck, appointed Peter Kahi as an administrator. Following Friday’s events, the new administrator promised they are doing everything to ensure the once retail giant continues its operations smoothly.

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