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Pooja Spices Offers Foods from Around Globe

Owners cater to customers' international tastes.

When he moved to America 23 years ago, Ranjan Chhibber had $8 in his pocket, a family to support in India, and a dream to be a successful American businessman.

Eighteen years later, Chhibber stands next to his wife, Gita, with the fluorescent lighting of Pooja Spices, named after his only daughter, reflecting off his smile as he declares he will never be able to retire.

"America never retires," said Chhibber. " My friend asks me, 'when are you going to retire?' and I tell him, in a few more years ... I cannot sit in my house for one day."

Chhibber admitted he can't sit at home because he has grown accustom to his, on average, 13-hour workday.

Most of those hours are spent at his store, Pooja Spices, located at 298 Sunset Business Park Drive in Herndon.

"Before I worked 11 to 8," said Chhibber. "Now I work 8 to 8, seven days a week."

BUT FOR CHHIBBER, long hours and extra work have been a part of life since he moved to America in 1981.

In 1974, Chhibber caught his first glimpse of American life when he came from India to export garments in Manhattan. After a few months he returned to India, married five years later, then left his family while he worked in America for various traveling companies, saving enough money to bring them to America a few years later.

"When he had to leave our four children and come to America, that was the hardest part," said Gita Chhibber, Ranjan's wife, about his departure.

"I'd only seen a part of America," said Chhibber about his first months of living in New York City. "I went to Long Island and I laid on the grass and looked up at the stars."

Chhibber said during this time he was training and traveling with Jewish companies, selling goods, and learning all he could about American business.

It wasn't until he visited the Washington, D.C. and Virginia area that he decided that was the location for his store, and his family.

"I want to live where the actual Americans live," said Chhibber of his choice to move to Herndon, where they lived until moving to Ashburn two years ago.

"Whenever you go to a small area they give you more respect than the big city people, because [big city people] don't have time," said Chhibber.

Chhibber said he first opened his store with the financial support of a friend from Dubai, an area near Saudi Arabia, who owned and operated several stores in Chicago.

He opened his first store in Arlington in 1986, but then moved to the Sunset Business Park in Herndon three years later.

Chhibber was able to buy his store last year, and now 18 years later, states it was the first of its kind in Herndon.

The store, he said, first carried goods from India to supply those who had immigrated to the area with some tastes and goods from home.

"WE OPENED the store at the back of Sunset Business Park," said Chhibber of its first location. "Then we saw all kinds of Indian, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Irani [people] buying groceries."

He said because at the time Herndon was not as developed as it is now, and because the merchandise he wanted was specific, suppliers would not drive out to stock his shelves.

Instead, Chhibber had to drive, once a week, to New Jersey where the shipments were unloaded and pick up his supplies.

"I try to get specific stuff for customers," said Chhibber. "I wanted to give them quality things and things that they can't buy everywhere else."

Chhibber said his store carries the typical convenience store goods, like candy bars, but also offers everything from 22-karat gold jewelry, imported from Dubai, to a range of spices and beers from India, Asia and Spain, among other things.

Although Chhibber and his wife joke they cannot retire from the business, when they talk about the store, their pride in its success is humbled by their struggles to get where they are today.

"Once we opened the store we had no vacation," said Chhibber, adding this year was the first year he and his wife were able to travel to India together since they moved to America.

"We saw 18 years of a struggling life, but we are happy," said Chhibber.

"The best part is we are in America, our children are here and are healthy and are good and we are good," his wife said of their struggles.