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Superheroes in store

Dairy owner uses his powers for good

ANNA LOREN
Last updated 05:00 04/02/2014
Batman Dairy

CAPED CRUSADER: Raju Patel is on a mission for children’s health.

Batman Dairy
MINI MISCHIEF MAKER: A pint-sized version of The Penguin, a villain from the Batman universe, guards the jellybean jars.
Batman Dairy
GOOD READS: Some of Raju Patel’s favourite comics.

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Superhero Raju Patel is determined to use his powers for good.

The 40-year-old has been running his dairy, the Kingston Food Centre in Otara, for more than 15 years.

But the Superhero Superette is no ordinary shop.

Inside it's a treasure trove of superhero merchandise and collectibles.

Posters line the walls, figurines crowd in cabinets and trinkets jostle for space.

There are pencils, mugs, magnets, stickers and even salt and pepper shakers shaped like comic book heroes.

"Open any cupboard in the shop and something will pop out. We've even got stuff on the ceiling because we've run out of wall space."

The store has always been dotted with superhero "bits and pieces" but Mr Patel began decorating in earnest about a year ago.

Since then it's become a talking point and people come from far and wide to see the collection, his wife Bhavyata says.

"Every customer comes in and says: ‘Wow, it's not like other dairies.'

"When they have friends over from overseas they bring them in. We even had the US Embassy come in once."

Mr Patel's superhero exploits aren't limited to decorations. He's assembled his own Batman costume and can often be seen in character behind the shop counter. Batman is also a regular fixture at events held by Willowbank School where he is chairman of the Parent Teacher Association.

But it's in his charity work that his true superhero nature shines through. He started making personalised clocks for sick kids at Starship hospital "a while back" and it all blossomed from there, he says.

Now he regularly visits Starship and Kidz First Children's Hospital to drop off home-made, comic book-themed gifts to young patients. He's even given some lucky kids a personalised letter from Batman and their own membership card for the Justice League, a group of superheroes.

Middlemore Foundation spokesman David Kemeys says it's not every organisation that has a hotline to the Batphone.

"We try not to abuse it because we know Batman has plenty to be getting on with. But he still finds time for us and does all sorts of things to help out.

"He's our hero - our superhero actually."

Mr Patel has also worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, going on outings with seriously ill Batman fans. Kids especially love his Batmobile, kitted out with a working Bat-Signal, Batman booster seats and the registration plate DARKNT.

The car was largely a DIY job - as was the Batman stroller Mr Patel made for his niece and many of the trinkets for sale in the dairy.

Surprisingly, he says Batman isn't his favourite superhero - that honour falls to The Phantom, a comic strip character also known as "The Ghost Who Walks".

But "no-one knows who he is" so Mr Patel donned the Batsuit instead.

He's had a love of comics ever since he was a young child and doesn't see it stopping any time soon.

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Go to facebook.com/superherosuperette or visit the store on the corner of Bairds and Everitt roads in Otara.

- Manukau Courier

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