Retail Real Estate in Kolkata
Kolkata – the City of Joy, hailed by many as the cultural capital of India, and by many as the most laidback place in the country. But whatever inference one might draw about 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, things have mostly been turned into better, especially in real estate industry. Previously, in the eyes of a local consumer, Kolkata was primarily divided into three parts – North, South and Central. Any denizen of the city would have happily travelled from South to North and Central and vice verse when it comes to shopping. Like the traditional jewellery market of Bow Bazaar in North, or the 360 degree product range of Bara Bazaar market in Central, or the Gariahat market in South, or the Sakher Bazaar in Behala in South–East and Esplanade – the heart of shopping in central Kolkata, was all what made up the basic structure of high street shopping experience in Kolkata. People were reluctant to go beyond them and were happy with whatever was in offer till then. But as with the natural cause of evolution, the economy of the city got a fresh leash of life suddenly with the booming of organised real estate in its different parts. First of all sophisticated and technology driven residential and commercial buildings started springing up in the swanky areas of South and Central Kolkata. The local Govt. also came with the initiative of giving new lands on lease and tying up with private parties for development towards the Northern and North-Eastern side of the city which was primarily the old city and lacked proper infrastructure.
Slowly land started becoming scarce and the Gurgaon modelled area of Rajarhat came into being, which is an area situated in the extreme east of the city and connects the Northern fringes too. So the booming continued in residential real estate primarily encompassing the length and breadth of the entire city, until one fine day some well learned men decided to give the city its first smell of organised retail and the entertaining concept of Shopping Malls and multiplexes came into being. But before going into that, let us first of all discuss a little more of the culture and shopping habits of the local residents here and the shopping seasons of the city.
Kolkata, being the capital of West Bengal and the erstwhile capital of the British India has a very cosmopolitan population in general but dominated mostly by the Bengalis. These Bengalis are a race who have a very high spending habit, loves food and believes in cultural and religious festivities. The other communities also have gelled well into their habits and have equally contributed to make the city a paradise for festivals and cultural activities. The prime and supreme festival of all Bengalis in Kolkata and over the world is ‘Durga Puja’ which happens around the month of October and witnesses the highest spending of money, time and efforts in the event by shopping, eating and merry making. Durga Puja followed by ‘Lakshmi Puja’ (Goddess of Wealth) and ‘Kali Puja’ (Goddess of Strength and Power), are perhaps occasions to spend in abundance for any Bengali or any citizen staying in the cultural environs of Kolkata. Thus, the month of August, September and October are the biggest months of shopping in Kolkata. Followed by it are also the months of March – April just before the beginning of the Bengali New Year. Further, closely followed are the months of November–December for Christmas and New Year which are also celebrated with equal gusto here. So, we can see that almost round the year, Kolkata is equally upbeat in shopping and celebrating. Due to this, till now the major chunk of the pie was all gobbled up by the aforesaid traditional places of High Street markets and shops, but for the near past emergence of a juggernaut called Shopping Malls.
Kolkata got its first taste of the Mall culture when the Forum Group (based out of this city) 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 which was earlier considered to be a residential hub. Thus came the concepts of anchor stores in Shopper’s Stop, Big Bazaar etc., multiplexes in Inox, Fame etc., where people could enjoy multiple movies at the same venue which was unknown to them before. All these formats of anchor stores, multiplexes, vanilla retail, game zone, foodcourt, hyper stores etc. became instant hit with the people of Kolkata. The comfort of a shopping mall with its centralised air conditioning system and ample car parking also caught the fancy of a Bengali babu when he saw that his family is happier with these rather than meandering through the traditional high streets in this hot and humid Kolkata 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 the southern fringes of the city which specifically targets the MIG (middle income group) crowd and has been a big hit till now with Big Bazaar as anchor and Fame as the multiplex. But the real fulcrum of success of shopping mall culture in Kolkata can be attributed to the “South City Mall” which is being hailed as one of the biggest in Asia with almost everything under its one umbrella. This Mall almost has killed the reputed traditional high streets of Gariahat and Behala. Though Gariahat still draws a more than sizeable crowd during the festivities, but for the rest of the year it only draws very little crowd. Such has been the impact. Simultaneously, many other malls in different parts of the city have actually taken a major chunk of the businesses from the high streets and the fever has really caught on. And keeping in with the cultural and literary tastes of the city, the Malls have also started a plethora of events in their premises starting from book launch to rock shows, poetry meets, drawing competitions for children etc to pull more and more crowd. Even people from abroad are visiting the Kolkata Malls nowadays to get a feel of the cultural fervour of the city. Amidst all these, there are still opportunities for the high street retail if the brands find the correct locality with reasonable rates. Important commercial areas of the city like Park Street, Camac Street, Shakespeare Sarani etc. cannot have malls because of scarcity of space but are important High Street destinations for brands as any store on these streets continues to generate huge businesses because of high traffic movements on these areas.
Talking about Malls again, the concept has even penetrated the everlasting traditional biggest book hub of Kolkata, which is called the College Street (North–Central) where mostly colleges and Universities are based. Now, Kolkata is coming up with its first Book Mall in that area and with it probably the last bastion of traditional High Street Retail in the city will be touched by the mall mania and will have to compete with it side by side. Though there will be times when each might compliment one another, but the natural progression into organised retail is surely taking its wings and has already started flying very high. With more and more multinational retail brands making their forays into the Indian shore, it was quite inevitable that Kolkata being one of the metro cities will come into the grip of it in the form of malls and multiplexes. Thus, though the High Street retail will always stay, but the city is coming up with more and more malls with state of the art architecture and different concepts. Many of the city developers are also emulating the already successful Mall designs of abroad and are hiring overseas architects for the same. So the city has now started basking in the glory of the successes of these Malls and its economy has also taken a boast with this healthy evolution of the retail real estate industry. Also the Govt. has promised various subsidies in matters of land bank which will even encourage developers of national and international repute to venture into the city to set up more Shopping Malls with different concepts and models. At the same time, with all these developments, the basic infrastructure of the city will also improve which in turn will only be beneficial for the city and its citizens. Thus the natural evolution in Kolkata retail has also kept its parallel progression with the other metros and cities.