Mr Solly Noor and his wife, Zohra.
The end of an era has arrived. After almost 75 years, the Noor family’s business will close its doors in Louis Trichardt.
For several generations, the name “Solly’s Discount World” was synonymous with Louis Trichardt’s business sector. In fact, many described it as a destination as people travelled from afar to buy “specials” at the store selling mainly appliances. However, at the end of this month (September), the doors will finally close.
Solly Noor, the owner of the store, said earlier this month that closing the business was sad but inevitable. The Noor family relocated to Cape Town 13 years ago and have since sold off most of their properties in the region.
The well-known beacon on the corner of Burger and Songozwi Street kept on doing business after the family’s relocation, thanks to loyal staff members. That the ties would have to be cut one day and the 75-year-old Solly Noor, who was still actively involved in the day-to-day running of the business, would have to let go, was inevitable.
For many residents, the disappearance of the familiar yellow and red signboards will be akin to losing a family member. This is a store that not only they frequented but also their parents and in some cases their grandparents.
Its history started in 1949 when a young Anver Hajee Noor arrived in Louis Trichardt. He started Mansuli Jewellers, situated in a small shop in what is today Songozwi Street. From a very young age, his son, Suliman (commonly known as Solly), helped his father in the shop.
In 1962, at the age of 14, Solly left school to work at the business full-time. He did not have many options as the only high school in town was a “whites-only” school and did not allow children of Indian origin. Three months later, on 1 March 1963, he opened the doors of Solly’s Record Bar, adjacent to the business of his father. This little shop quickly became a well-known beacon, and Solly’s started to build a reputation for carrying a large amount of stock at discounted prices.
In the mid-1960s, a couple of things happened that dramatically shaped the future of this young entrepreneur. He expanded his range to include electronic goods and quickly realised that a huge market existed for appliances. Sanctions imposed on the then Rhodesia also meant that trading increased just south of the Limpopo, and Solly made good use of the opportunities. He also realised that the real business lay in volumes and not in big profits on single items.
He very quickly learnt that life is not easy for a small retailer trying to revolutionise the retail sector in the country with his aggressive discounting practices. He had to face boycotts from certain suppliers and had to find creative ways to purchase stock.
The 1970s were also a very traumatic period for the local Indian business community. The apartheid laws forced them out of the centre of town, where they had been trading for almost 80 years. They were told to move to an area demarcated for them out of town in what later became known as Eltivillas.
At that stage, the main road to the north proceeded through the centre of town along Krogh Street. In a strange twist of fate, the Roads Department decided a few years before the forced removal to build a bypass, which caused the N1 to the north to pass right next to Eltivillas.
When Solly’s Discount World opened its doors in Eltivillas on 1 July 1980, the store was so packed with customers that they could hardly move. People came from all over the region to snap up the bargains. For the thousands of shoppers, the politics of the day became insignificant, as long as they could get value for their money.
During those years, Indian residents of the country were not allowed to buy property in town. They could only buy land in specifically demarcated areas, and even these were scarce and very limited in terms of space. Businessmen such as Solly had to make use of a white nominee to buy property. His first acquisition of property in the centre of Louis Trichardt in 1985 met with a lot of resistance from the council, but they could do very little.
On 18 August 1988, the Noor Centre on the corner of Krogh and the then Trichardt Street opened its doors. This ultra-modern building hosted banks, clothing shops, and a major retail store. It changed the facade of the town and introduced a new era of development. Few people could believe that the young man from Solly’s Record Bar could become a major property developer so quickly.
In the years that followed, he quickly expanded to other towns in the province and to other parts of the country. The 1990s brought along political freedom, which meant that he no longer had to invest via third parties. In 1993, a second Solly’s Discount World opened in the heart of the then Pietersburg. This was followed two years later by the opening of an ultra-modern Solly’s Discount World store on the corner of Burger and Songozwi Street in Louis Trichardt. The hard work brought along wealth, and Solly knew he had to invest it wisely.
Solly realised at a very young age that he had an incredible talent for dealing in property transactions. Whether at an auction or dealing over the phone, he had an intuitive feeling for when to buy and when to sell. He bought property all across the country and even abroad, but he had the patience to wait for the right time before developing it further.
In the last two decades, his focus shifted to property development, but his love of the retail industry remained. After relocating to Cape Town, Solly scaled down on many of his retail activities. The Solly’s Discount Stores in Polokwane and in Johannesburg also closed. He sold many of the shopping centres and buildings in Limpopo. The centre where Solly’s Discount World operates from is one of the last business centres in town still belonging to the family.
But when the doors of Solly’s Discount World close at the end of September, it also closes a chapter on another of Solly Noor’s roles in the local community, namely that of a philanthropist and community leader. In the early 1990s, he served as the chairperson of the Greater Louis Trichardt Transitional Local Council’s executive committee. This was a tumultuous period, during which strong leadership was needed to ensure the smooth transition to a new political dispensation.
He and his wife, Zohra, were very involved in charitable projects and they funded one of the first homes for street children in the province. For more than five decades, they made bursaries available for students and funded community halls and libraries. He served on several boards, such as the council of the University of the Witwatersrand and the board of the University of Venda. He is well known in the business world, where he served on boards such as that of ABSA Bank, and he was a director of the Investec property group.
Religion also played an important role in his business and personal life. He funded the Masjid-Al-Noor mosque in Eltivillas, which was opened in March 1999. This was one of several mosques in the country that the Noor family funded. In 2014, he was elected as president of the World Memon Organisation (WMO). This is an international organisation that works towards the upliftment, welfare, and well-being of the people in the communities where the WMO members are active.
“I want to thank the entire community far and wide for the loyal support all over the seven decades of trading, and all our tenants and service providers and most of all our dedicated staff who have been with us all these years,” said Mr Noor. “As sad as it is, we look back and cherish the wonderful successful times, and Louis Trichardt will always be in our heart and our home.”
Date:15 September 2023
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror since 1990. He graduated from the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.