This is an excerpt from Heritage Retailers of Calcutta: 1785 to 1950, by Ashish J. Sanyal, published by Notion Press. The author has shared stories of the oldest shop in individual categories, as well as those that reinvented themselves to remain relevant. Read more about the selection process here.
1897 — A.TOSH & SONS, Tosh House, 32 & 33 India Exchange Place, Kolkata – 700 001
Young Provash Chandra Ghose crossed swords with his father, Mr. Ashutosh Ghosh, when his father ordered him to join the family construction company. Provash told his father in no uncertain terms that he would not like to be a slave working for someone else! His astounded father all but disowned him but allowed him to stay in their family house in Santragachi. It was his mother who provided Provash with the seed capital to start his own business.
The founder of A. Tosh with family members and employees
The early years were a struggle. While his father left home every morning in a horse-drawn carriage, Provash set about roaming the streets of Calcutta on foot selling loose tea. Hard work and diligence paid off and in 1914 he opened his first retail shop on Harrison road selling general goods. This was followed by shops in New Market, Strand Road, Sealdah, A. J. C. Bose Road, and Dalhousie. All five shops are still operating. Provash Chandra Ghosh understood the importance of location in a retail operation—set up in a crowded place selling everyday basic items that people consume daily. Why five shops? Provash was a family-minded person and he wanted all five of his brothers to give up their jobs and join his family business. The relationship with his father also improved. He was truly proud of his son Provash and felt that the fortunes of the family were in safe hands.
Provash Chandra Ghosh understood the importance of location for retailers and set up shops in crowded places to sell everyday essentials
Today, A. Tosh & Sons is a leading 2-Star tea-trading house run by a close-knit family. After Mr. Provash Chandra Ghosh died at the age of only 60, his son Bhabotosh took over the reins of the company. It was under his stewardship that A. Tosh & Sons grew from being a cluster of tea shops to becoming a leading tea company in India. His brother Deb Kumar Ghosh became the Chairman of the Calcutta Tea Traders Association and Vice Chairman of the Tea Board of India. Today, the third and fourth generations are in charge and are carrying on the successful business begun by their rebellious grandfather.
Cans of Tosh’s tea lined inside the shop
The secret of their success? According to Managing Director Gautam Ghosh “remaining grounded and God fearing. If there is a wedding in the family of our staff, one member of the board of directors always makes it a point to attend. We invest in our people and they repay equally.”
Unlike most family businesses where the women from the family play a more traditional role, Gautam has inducted his sister-in-law, Mrs. Vandana Ghosh, and his daughter, Mrs. Amrita Mukherjee, into the company. He affectionately calls them “our go-to men” whenever there is a crisis in the office.
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