Saturday, September 17, 2011: 09:50:07 PM

TJCD Guest Column

Kolkata retail realty: Evolution from high street to malls - Saurav Ranjan Datta, Shriram Ozone Group

The city got its first taste of the mall culture when the Forum Group brought “Forum” shopping mall in Elgin Road and Bengal Ambuja Group brought ‘City Centre I’ mall in Salt Lake

The City of Joy, Kolkata is hailed by many as the cultural capital of India, while many others term it as the most laidback place in India. But whatever one must refer to the city, the sleeping giant is slowly waking up with its fangs full of opportunities. If one has to track its current history over the past decade of 2000-10, things have mostly been turned into better, especially for the real estate industry.

Earlier, in the eyes of a local consumer, Kolkata was primarily divided into three parts – North, South and Central. City-based shoppers would have happily travelled from South to Central to North and vice versa. These areas made up the basic structure of high street shopping in the city.
As a part of the natural evolution, the economy of the city got a fresh leash of life with the booming of organised real estate in its different parts. Initially, residential and commercial buildings started springing up in the swanky areas of South and Central Kolkata, followed by developments in the northern fringes of the city including areas near Dumdum airport and Salt Lake (East Kolkata). The city’s real estate market got a big push with Rajarhat coming up in the extreme east of the city. Today, the real estate boom encompasses the length and breadth of the entire city.
Amidst such developments, the city also smelt the growth of organised retail with mushrooming of shopping malls and multiplexes.
Love for shopping
The city residents, who are mostly Bengalis, have an incessant crave for shopping. Its continuous engagement with festivals and cultural activities has boosted the spirit of shopping further. If observed closely, one can easily figure out that Kolkata remains upbeat in shopping and celebrations throughout the year.
For many years, shopping remained concentrated to high street markets and shops located in traditional areas such as Barabazar, Bowbazar, Esplanade and Gariahat, among others. Joining the bandwagon with other metropolis, Kolkata also witnessed the emergence of shopping malls.
The city got its first taste of the mall culture when the Forum Group brought “Forum” shopping mall in Elgin Road (a posh South Kolkata Locality) and Bengal Ambuja Group brought ‘City Centre I’ mall situated in Salt Lake. With these came concepts of anchor stores in Shopper’s Stop and Big Bazaar, multiplexes such as Inox, where people can enjoy multiple movies at the same venue. The formats of anchor stores, multiplexes, vanilla retail, game zone, food court and hyper stores became an instant hit with the people of Kolkata.
Malls: A success story
The comfort of a shopping mall with its centralised air conditioning system and ample car parking caught the fancy of a Bengali babu when he saw that his family is happier shopping here rather than meandering through the traditional high streets in this hot and humid climate.
With the success of ‘Forum’ and ‘City Centre I’, the priority of a shopping mall over high streets took a permanent root in the city. Soon, many more malls followed catering to different classes of target audience. One example being the ‘Metropolis Mall’ situated at Highland Park Complex in South Kolkata, which specifically targets the middle income group and has been a big hit till now with Big Bazaar as anchor and Fame as the multiplex.
But the city pens down the success story of shopping malls with the South City Mall, which is being hailed as one of the biggest malls in Asia. The malls are slowly eating away a major chunk of businesses from the reputed traditional high streets mentioned above.
So deep has been the penetration of mall culture in the city that Kolkata is coming up with its first book mall in College Street and with it probably the last bastion of traditional high street retail will be touched by the mall mania, intensifying competition further.
Though there will be times when each might complement one another, but the natural progression into organised retail is surely taking its wing and has already started flying very high. With more and more multinational retail brands making their foray into the Indian shore, it was quite inevitable that Kolkata being one of the metro cities will come into the grip of organised retail mostly in the form of malls and multiplexes.
Many city developers have started emulating the already successful mall designs of abroad and are hiring overseas architects for the same. The city has started basking in the glory of mall success.
Saurav Ranjan Datta, marketing head (Retail and Commercial) at Shriram Ozone Group, a reputed property firm headquartered in Kolkata

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