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Furniture biz runs in family

Victoria businessman credits his father for teaching him the industry
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Alykhan Sunderji in his new Studio Y Design store on Herald Street downtown. 'We're different,' he says.

Alykhan Sunderji didn't set out with the intent of establishing what is essentially an offshoot of the family business in a new spot, and in a new city.

But the man born and bred into the furniture business has done just that with the opening of Studio Y Design in downtown Victoria.

As the son of Amin Sunderji, who founded Yaletown Interiors in Vancouver in 1988, Alykhan inherited a few things, notably his father's love of the furniture business and a workaholic attitude.

As a result, it was always likely he would return to the business at some point.

But Alykhan said it was happenstance and "an innocent phone call" made while walking along Herald Street that has him standing in the middle of a brand new 9,000 square foot showroom in Victoria.

"I had decided to go back to school," said the younger Sunderji. He had been involved in the furniture business for more than 12 years before selling three EQ3 modern furniture stores in Vancouver back to EQ3's corporate head office in 2008.

"They wanted to take them corporate and I looked at it as an opportunity for me to finish school at Camosun," Sunderji said.

Earlier this year, he passed by 520 Herald, the former location of Urban Barn and at one time the Kaleidoscope Theatre.

"I noticed it was lying open. It was one phone call and here we are," he said with a smile.

Sunderji completed extensive renovations to the Herald Street location, opening up storage areas and the mezzanine level to establish a larger showroom. It gave him 9,000 square feet as opposed to the 6,500 that the Urban Barn was using.

He also brightened up the showroom with light and colour to display modern, European furniture designs. It's a message that there's a new furniture player in town.

"There are similar stores to this in Vancouver, but now people don't have to go to Vancouver to buy what's in fashion," said Sunderji, noting there is a growing market for this type of design.

"With EQ3, I used to ship a one tonne truck to Victoria every month, so there was a need then, it's stronger now."

The clean-cut lines and contemporary furniture, including designers like Calligaris and Italsofa, is geared to the mid-to highend market.

But Sunderji said there is something that will suit anyone from the young professional in a small condo to waterfront home owners.

"A year ago, everything in furniture was the same," he said. "We wanted to do something different, and the response so far has been phenomenal.

Studio Y Design opened its doors Sept. 6.

While the inventory is "different" from the traditional styles favoured by his father for years, the business is very much the same.

Sunderji admits it runs in his blood and he was always likely to be drawn back to it.

He counts his father, Amin, as his greatest help and influence in opening the Victoria store.

"He helped me a lot here. He was here day in and day out helping with renovations and buying ... my greatest asset in the beginning stages has been my dad," he said.

No doubt his father's drive has also worn off on him.

Amin Sunderji was forced to leave Uganda during the military dictatorship of Idi Amin and eventually settled in Kamloops.

There, he got a job in the warehouse of a furniture store and worked his way through a variety of jobs to the sales floor.

He would open Yaletown Interiors in 1988 and, at one point, there were four locations in the Lower Mainland under names like Thomasville, Lane and EQ3.

The last Yaletown Interiors store closed in 2005, though Alykhan's sister and brother-in-law still have stores in the city.

"There's no question my greatest strength is my dad," said Sunderji, though he's well aware it will take more than a proven track record and lineage to conquer a new city.

"I think what will make a big difference for us is the product. With our buying capabilities, we will get good lines on our floor," Sunderji said.

aduffy@timescolonist.com