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Ishita Ayan Dutt & Sambit Saha |
May 01, 2004
Is Kolkata catching up with the rest of the country? In one sphere at least, the answer is a definite yes. The east may be red but it's also getting its fair share of ritzy shopping malls.
And these shopping malls in turn are filling with familiar nationwide names like Shopper's Stop, Pantaloon, Westside and Crossword.
Kolkata's first mall Forum emerged amidst the bustle of Elgin Road. Now the action is taking place in newly developing suburbs such as the area around the EM Bypass.
At least five new malls are slated to come up there in the near future and each one will be between 400,000 sq ft and 450,000 sq ft. Two others are being developed in other parts of the city. About Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) will be invested in each one.
That's not all. Travel further into the future and even more are at the conceptualisation stage. Kolkata's real estate developers like Harsh Neotia are even talking about specialised malls that may sell everything from jewellery to home fittings and furnishings.
Vivek Kathotia of Fort Group already has a name for his jewellery mall that is scheduled to come up next year: Fort Knox.
Leading the charge into the malls is Rahul Saraf, managing director Forum. Saraf is now planning two sprawling malls on the EM Bypass and both will be around 400,000 sq ft to 600,000 sq ft. That's about two or three times the size of Forum.
Says Saraf: "These will be destination malls where retainment time will be more, so that people won't mind travelling the extra mile."
First off the block will be Neotia's 550,000 sq ft City Centre, which is scheduled to open in May in Salt Lake. Neotia has already gathered a galaxy of retail names from around the country including Shopper's Stop, Planet M, Nike, Reebok, Samsonite, Arrow, Lee and Wrangler.
Even food chain KFC is making its first foray into the city. According to the plans, the shopping and entertainment zone will be around 450,000 sq ft. Neotia is planning to start construction on another mall in Rajarhat, the new town being promoted by the state government. The Rajarhat mall may be designed as a niche mall.
Then, there's Sushil Mohta, managing director, Merlin Group who has emerged as one of the city's top developers in recent years. Mohta is a promoter director of South City, a Rs 700-crore (Rs 7 billion) giant colony that is one of the city's new suburbs.
Mohta and his partners have figured that South City will need shopping and entertainment complexes to be an attractive residential area. So they are building a mall in the area.
Mohta, who is also the vice president of the City Developers' Forum, is bullish about Kolkata's mall construction boom. He's also building a specialised mall that will focus on home furnishings and fittings -- it will be called Home Mall and is expected to be ready by year-end.
What are Mohta's predictions for the future? He reckons that in five years Kolkata will have at least five big malls that will be around 300,000 sq ft and another four or five boutique or specialised malls that will also be the same size.
Says Mohta: "Pollution-free air-conditioned shopping ambience in the malls is preferable to the heat, humidity, noise and air pollution associated with roadside shopping.
The reasons pushing this sudden spurt of growth are fairly well known. The fact is that Kolkata has turned out to be a winning city for retailers. Industry sources say Kolkata has the advantage of a being a metro city with giant numbers and it's also a cheap city to live in.
Around 80 per cent of the people are either landowners or under old tenancy, which means that their wallets aren't slimmed by large payouts as house rent.
That's not all. The infotech and BPO booms have had their impact on the city. The executives at these companies earn as much as similar level executives in other parts of the country. But since the cost of living is cheap they have a greater amount of disposable income.
Also, there's the fact that middle class habits are changing. With lower interest rates people are saving less and double-income families now have much more money to spend.
In fact, industry guesstimates suggest that the average Kolkatan spends Rs 1,000 per visit to a shopping mall. About 12 per cent spend Rs 5,000 per visit. Says Neotia: "The shopping malls are a perfect destination being a blend of shopping and entertainment. It's called shoppatainment," he says.
As Kolkatans reach for their wallets, the retailers have been quick to cash in. Pantaloon, for instance, opened shop here back in 1997 when it had 13,000 sq ft of retail space. Today it has three giant stores over a sprawling 100,000 sq ft. One of Pantaloon's largest stores is in Kolkata.
Other retailers that have been enticed by Kolkata's charm and spending power include Shopper's Stop and Westside. Shopper's Stop is now setting up its second store in Neotia's City Centre and it should be operational by May.
What's more, B S Nagesh, managing director and CEO, Shopper's Stop says his store is now putting bigger bets on the city. "If all goes well, we will have a third and fourth store in 12-18 months' time," he says.
Nagesh says the chain has had "like-to-like growth of 20-25 per cent over 12 months of operation", in the city.
It's much the same story for Westside which first opened its doors in the city back in mid-2001. The company is now making plans to add two more stores in south and north Kolkata.
"The response from Kolkata has been overwhelming. What surprises me is not the response, but the profile of customers. The huge response is not just from the top-end but, across segments," says Himanshu Chakrawarti, general manager, marketing. Trent, which owns Westside.
Other retailers too are thought to be doing well in the city. A diverse variety of retailers and brands are now available including Landmark, Satya Paul, Swarovski, Barista, Pizza Hut, Inox and Crossword to name a few.
However, there are dark spots in this picture. The Government needs to iron out its laws if it wants Kolkata to emerge as a retailing hub of any consequence. Property tax for a commercial establishment is one of the highest in the city at 56 per cent to 57.5 per cent, compared to much lower levels in other parts of the country.
Also, retailers still complain that it's tough to bring goods into the city because there is an excess of regulations and red tape.
But such worries aren't stopping the customers. And as long as they are flocking to the new malls and stores the cash registers will keep ringing for Kolkata's retail revolution.