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Century-old Osman Allu shop pointer to town’s rich history

By Lydiah Nyawira | June 8th 2021
Osman Allu shop in Nyeri town. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Osman Allu shop in Nyeri town is among some of the family businesses that have been passed from generation to generation.

The shop, along Kimathi Way, has been serving residents since the 1900s. According to records dating back to 1903, the Osman Allu shop is believed to be the oldest building in Nyeri town.

It is named after an Arab merchant, Osman Allu, who set up the shop where a variety of groceries and other items like soap, sweets and wood were sold.

Nyeri town had itself been established in 1902 as a British camp when colonialists invaded the region. It was located at the whites-only section where the natives were restricted. They could only access it while running an errand. And only white settlers and their African servants were allowed at the Osman Allu shop. 

According to Mzee Samuel Maina, the workers at the shop used intimidation to ward off Africans or dogs that were tied at the entrance.

“The only business that involved Africans at the time was the sale of eggs, which cost five cents each,” said Maina.

Today, the shop is run by Vindchad Rajpashann who bought it from the Osman Allu family in 1990.

Rajpashann said when he purchased the business, it was a retail shop and he has maintained it as a small but well-stocked supermarket. The prominent Osman Allu signage still stands on the building and the writings are conspicuous.

The neatly stocked supermarket has unique food items sold on both wholesale and retail basis.

“I am not a descendant of the Osman Allu family, but I knew the sixth generation of the Allus. Most of them have died or relocated,” he said.

Rajpashann said the shop is strategically within the town’s central business district. Renovations have not been done on the building since it was gazetted as a historical landmark by the National Museums of Kenya.

At the back of the shop, there are several other buildings that were also owned by the Allu family. Across the street from the retail shop, Allu had set up a petrol station, which was the first in the town. There is also another building that is now a restaurant and coffee house that still stands to date.

Osman Allu significantly contributed to the building of the Consolata Mission Hospital in Nyeri, Tumutumu Hospital and in the 1920s he helped in building an Indian school and the present Nyeri Mosque.

Variety of items

Elisha Kiambati, a resident, said it was the place where he used to go to restock his confectionery supplies.

“This is the one place where I used to buy sweets when I was a child. Osman Allu shop has been selling sweets and all other stuff since 1918,” he noted.

Back then, the shop was one of the few that had a variety of items that would only be found in the capital city.

Nyeri resident Michael Kimatwa said the shop was the only one with a trolley, which was unheard of in the rural setting.

“Since most settlers lived in the outskirts of the town, they often bought food items in large quantities and so they used a trolley while shopping,” he said.

Hellen Wanjiru recalls the shop was the only outlet selling queen cakes, crisps and Danish cookies packed in a tin. “I remember it was such a treat to be taken to Osman Allu because they always had something unique that you couldn’t get anywhere else. It was the first place I saw a queen cake,” she noted.

Despite changing ownership over the years, the Osman Allu landmark remains one of the most prominent pointers to the rich history of Nyeri town.

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