Does High Street Fear the Malls? Bangalore Says No

Have mountains of glass and posters of minimally clad minxes begun to sway the city away from traditional avenues of trade? In the process of evaluating the new and the old, Exec takes a look at whether malls are denting sales in Bangalore’s oldest shopping district – Commercial Street.

Bustling with shoppers and packed with stores that range from the tiny and hidden away to glass and neon glamour, Commercial Street is undoubtedly Bangalore’s most iconic shopping destination. The allure of the area can be summed up with a quote from Mohammed Nazim, the president of the Traders‘Association, “They say you can find everything from a pin to a plane on Commercial Street”. While we have yet to spot a store selling spare aircraft parts, a look at the milieu of establishments that crowd the by lanes and inner recesses, leaves us feeling hopeful. With facades constantly blocked by browsing hordes of shoppers, Commercial Street delivers the quintessential high street shopping experience.
Over the past ten years, we’ve seen giant glass and concrete shrines to consumerism mushroom all over the city. A look at the figures will tell you that Bangalore has seen an addition of over a million sq. feet of mall space in 2012 alone.
Despite the constantly moving throng of humanity, the glass-fronted stores (barring a select few) seem filled with only salespeople. By contrast, a weekend on high street will see people squeezing through narrow doorways to get in and out of ancient shops that are about the size of an office cubicle.
According to the traders of Commercial Street, what you’re most likely to see in a mall are folks who are looking to, as Mohammed Nazim puts it “do a little shopping, go for a movie, have dinner and go home.” Malls then, are only valued for the entertainment they provide in terms of food courts, window displays, promotions, theatres and other attractions.
But where does that leave the high street? Well, the shopping promenade is essentially where discerning shoppers go when they plan on doing some serious shopping. As Nazim said, “In Commercial Street, the range is so huge. There are approximately 170 salwar kameez shops here, if you go by count. That’s a lot of shops. You go to a mall and the maximum you’ll get is a choice of three.” And to reinforce that call, malls are also home to fantastically priced goods, a distinct point in high street’s favour. We asked Anil Sancheti, proprietor of Mysore Saree Udyog (a store that Vanity Fair has included amongst the best shopping destinations in the world) why this was so. “Malls sell at nearly 40-50% increased prices. MNC brands charge the same prices in malls and at the high street stores, but local traders pay much lower rents. So we can afford to sell at much lower rates. But if we were in a mall, what we sell for 1000, here, we will have to sell for 1800 there.”
And the price factor, tied into a rapidly growing middle class consumerism, is a major reason for high street’s sustained success. Talking about high street’s youth appeal, Uday Gokani, of Hum India Inc, said, “Young people nowadays party a lot more. And they want new outfits. At a high street they can afford to buy a new outfit every other week without spending a lot. Plus, we carry branded products that we sell at much lower prices than the malls.”
Be it the wedding season, the ever present Indian festival or any other conceivable excuse to hit the stores, it’s the high street that is ichiban in the shopper’s mind.

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