In 1981 Gerhard Froneman came and told me that there was a shop looking for a new owner near thebottom of Dorp Street. The shop was known as ‘XL Store’. According to a friend who worked for Dr Anton Rupert’s Historical Houses, it was one of the original old shops in Stellenbosch, a genuine old general dealer, just like the old village shops of yesteryear.
I am interested in anything that’s old, and that tells a story. I approached a few friends, and together we hired the shop. Two years later we bought the property, shop and all. It was one of the most irresponsible things I’ve ever done in my life.
Then Professor Frans Smuts asked me whether I knew whose shop I’d bought. I had no idea. He told me it had been Oom Samie’s shop.
Who was Oom Samie? I had no idea, so I arranged to have the shop’s history researched, and in this way I met Oom Samie – posthumously. He impressed me so much that I immediately changed the shop’s name to Oom Samie se Winkel.
Oom Samie was a philanthropist. He was disabled and incapable of doing physically demanding work. His parents bought the shop for him in 1904, and it still stands on the same spot and remains in the same building occupied by Oom Samie, then trading under the name CJ Volsteedt Algemene Handelaar.
Oom Samie was known for his kind-heartedness, and for always including something extra with thepurchases of those who were experiencing difficulty. I decided, with my partners, to allow the style and theemotion of the shop to live once more. And the shop has an emotion. It smells of tobacco and sugar and salted fish and herbs and spices. It brings a smile to the faces of visitors to Stellenbosch. It brings a nostalgia for times and lifestyles long gone.
Oom Samie se Winkel has become a life anchor for me. I am responsible for the people who work for me. I cannot lie in and just take it easy. I have to get up every day, encourage my staff, and thank them. We try always to offer traditional ingredients such as bokkoms, sour fig jam, honey, chest sugar, offal, sheepheads, rooibos tea, and much else besides. Oom Samie is today the oldest shop in Stellenbosch still trading on the same property and in the same building. In 2015 Oom Samie se Winkel was 110 years old.
A TV crew got to hear about this and asked whether they could do a story about the shop and its people. The resulting programme was aired about two months later. While the crew was in the shop, the presenter asked me to tell an interesting story about something that had happened in the shop. The story that came to mind was the one about the veldskoens.
An old, used pair of veldskoens hangs in my shop, and the story behind this is as follows. A gentleman who was on a Stellenbosch ‘red wine tour’ stepped inside the shop in his old veldskoens, selected a new pair on the shelf, ‘tried them on’, placed his old veldskoens where the new ones had been on the shelf, and left without paying.
About a month after this story hit the airwaves, I received the following letter at my office: ‘When I was in Stellenbosch with a few mates on a red wine tour in 1988 and we visited Oom Samie, I saw some new vellies – I took off my old vellies, put on the new pair, and placed my old shoes on the shelf where the new ones had been.’
A friend of my correspondent had seen the TV programme about Oom Samie, phoned him, and said he must go and pay for his veldskoens. The result was that I one day entered my office and found the letter plus a credit card receipt for R600 – after twenty-six years, this gentleman had come in and paid for his shoes. He gave me his cell number, and I phoned him to say thank you. He lives in Bothaville.
I don’t know what he was doing in Stellenbosch this time, but he gave me great pleasure, and put a smile in my heart, when he came and paid for his shoes.