Embassy ban on mobile phones brings £1,000 a day windfall to local chemist
Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining – and an enterprising chemist has proved the point by netting a small fortune from the war on terror.
Alpesh Patel’s family-run store is just yards from the American embassy in London, where visitors have been banned from bringing in electronic devices for fear they could be used in a terrorist attack.
The clampdown has left the hundreds of visa applicants who queue up outside the building every day with a problem: what to do with all their mobiles and other gizmos while they go inside.
Clampdown: Hundreds queue at US embassy daily
That is where 40-year-old Mr Patel found his opportunity to turn a profit, offering to look after items for £10 a time.
The idea has proved remarkably successful, attracting more than 100 customers a day – bringing in £1,000 each weekday, or about £250,000 a year. He has had to employ more staff and open earlier, just to cope with demand.
But some visa applicants – who can number more than 700 on the busiest days – are angry with the inconvenience the American crackdown is causing.
Until last month, visitors could leave banned items with the embassy’s own staff but a security review led to the suspension of this service.
Mr Patel said: ‘Two weeks ago, two senior employees from the embassy came to see me and said they weren’t going to let anyone into the building if they were carrying electronic keys and mobile phones. We had a look at what was involved and agreed to help.
‘We normally open at 9am but the embassy said they’d be turning people away from 7am, so now we have five or six staff on duty two hours early.
Ringing up a profit: Mr Patel charges £10 to look after a mobile phone
‘I don’t think the £10 charge is unreasonable. It involves quite a lot of work. The embassy can send people wherever they want. We just happen to be nearby.
'We keep the belongings in a secure area and have people watching over them.’
Mr Patel’s shop, Gould Pharmacy, was already doing good business even before the new windfall.
Last year, it made £700,000 gross profit on a turnover of £1.6 million. But some Britons are furious with the new arrangements.
One visitor, a 79-year-old retired businessman from Sutton Coldfield, was sent to the pharmacy after security staff found a metal tape-measure in his wife’s handbag.
Even though it was not electronic, guards would not let the couple in with it.
Kenneth, who declined to give his full name, said: ‘As well as the tape-measure we had to hand over the car keys and house keys at the chemist’s.
‘I also had to sign a form so they have a record of my signature. I don’t know anything about this shop or who runs it. What happens to all these items while people are queuing at the embassy?’
‘If the Americans are so paranoid about security, they should have a secure facility where such things can be safely deposited.’
An embassy spokesman said: ‘It has been a long-standing policy that visa applicants aren’t permitted to bring electronic devices into US embassies.
‘For many months, our guards [in London] offered to hold these devices in the screening pavilion while applicants went in each day for their appointments.
‘However, it became clear that this impeded the guards’ ability to perform their primary function – providing security for the embassy.
‘Gould’s operates the storage business independent of the embassy, which does not endorse one business over another.’
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