Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Mall: where is it going?

Here, at the Indian Bazaars blog, in the initial days, I talked about how I would include in the blog, both the Bazaar and the Mall. Somewhere down the road, I completely forgot about the Mall. There was enough to share about the Bazaar as I explored the marketplace on an ordinary day or on a festival day.

Living in Bangalore, the Mall may be more a part of your daily life than the Bazaar. I did go to the Malls, not every day, but every once in a while. It was sometimes to watch a movie, sometimes to “eat out” and occasionally ‘to shop’. The malls had “Food courts” – the eating places where you could order one dish from one eatery and another from the neighbouring one and sit at these common tables in a cacophonic atmosphere of young people who did the movie, the shopping AND the “eating out” all in one sitting! Or, so it seemed to me.

Today, I come across this interesting article in the architectural journal PLACES and think again about the Mall. In order to understand ‘The Mall- where is it going?’ maybe, we need to look at ‘The Mall – where did it come from? And, therefore, this work from Brian Ulrich is so interesting to know. His book : Is this place great or what? was published recently, a collection of his photographs of consumer culture in the United States, pictures taken over a period of ten years.

The project comprises three series: Retail (2001-06), photographs taken in malls and big box stores across the country; Thrift (2005-08), focusing on the secondary life of consumer goods in thrift shops; and Dark Stores (2008-11). You can read about it here: Is this Place great or what?

There is a slideshow of the photographs at: Not if but when PROJECTS. These are malls in Illinois, New York, Ohio and some in UK. It shows the people, the goods. One could say that there is this monotony, in the way in which the goods are displayed and the way in which the people perceive and absorb what is displayed. Brian has studied this consumerism for a long time and his interpretations are interesting. You can read Brian’s writings on his blog, linked here: Not if but when BLOG

Last month, having spent ten days in Ahmedabad, we went one evening to Satellite road. It was THE place to shop, someone said. It had innumerable malls and the newness of the experience was on offer. But, we walked around that evening, the realisation soon dawning on us that Malls were dying, or at least a few had just died in the city, we did not know what would happen in the days to come. We had entered an EMPTY mall – it was a strange experience. Why were we here?! There was a handloom expo that was occupying a large central space in the mall. That was all there was in there. The rest of the mall was dead. No buyers. People had vacated. Sales were not good. At another part of the city, at Sarkari Virasat road, near Thaltej, I had seen that morning a new, “grand” mall under construction.

Who would occupy? Did it make good busines sense? an interesting read here in The Hindu. As we think about our future cities, we may look to the West for new aspirations but are we firmly grounded on where we come from?

9 comments:

Reshma at masalamangomantra.blogspot.com said...

On my last visit to India, esp Bangalore...I noticed that it was the Mall culture prevalent...and most youth would be found there. My market or bazaar shopping was limited because of the parking cars fiascos, so I really don't know what to say!!!

Meena Venkataraman said...

Having lived in Blore, I must say the mall provides a sort of escape... Its a place to hang out..and something about the number of people thronging the place gives the visitor a sense of inclusion...
Its like Facebook.. People can spend time there and not do anything at all...
This besides the obvious shops, cinema halls, and restaurants.
Will this craze really last ? Only time can tell...
For its inevitable that this model of shopping might be replaced by others

Arti said...

Malls have spoilt the raw fun that shopping used to be. The haggling with shopkeepers, the inquiring with fellow shoppers, the colors, the sounds... Its all missing in Malls.

Laura said...

I remember the malls of Bangalore... but they couldn't really rival Gandhi Bazaar or KR Market. The largest urban shopping mall in Europe opened here in London a few weeks ago - it's called Westfield Stratford City. I'm planning a visit before Christmas, so I'll let you know how it goes. Apparently it's so huge you need a map to get around...

asha said...

For a consumeristic society that we have become in the cities, the malls are the hang-out-and-spend places. Very unlike the bazaar/markets/santhes.
I have my Rs.60 ice cream or Rs.250 meal in a mall thinking that most of what I am paying is the rent the shop needs to pay :)

All the best in your quest and studies. May we have a better urban environment!

Indian Bazaars said...

Reshma: It is true that the mall culture is quite strong in Bangalore. We live on Bannerghatta road. When we moved here in 2007, there was SPAR, the American food chain store which had many regular customers, including us, in our first few months here, as we were fascinated by the efficiency and quality of groceries you could buy. Then, we saw the 'Gopalan Mall' being built and it soon opened to the public with a Multiplex, now "close to home" for all of us who lived nearby and we thought, "B.G.road" was a happening place. NOW, we have the 'Meenakshi Mall' on this same road and yes, the traffic congestion has gotten worse and if you plan to visit the Mall on a weekend, the car queues are interminably long!! The malls have several basements for parking and yet they seem insufficient. It surely is still an attractive destination for families. What we sometimes wonder is how long can this last? What are we aspiring for and are we in the right direction?

Meena: The comparison to Facebook is really interesting.

Arti: Maybe, a hybrid shopping experience would be something to develop. The other day, an Australian group visiting Bangalore for a week mentioned that they had had a discussion about the story of Big Bazaar, that the aisles were consciously designed to be narrow to give the feeling of a crowded street! The haggling experience being incorporated into the mall or supermarket visit would be useful. I'm sure many of us would love it for that!

Laura: Would love to know more about the Westfield Stratford City from your visit there and how people have responded to the scale of the mall.

Asha: It is true about the primary component of price of the product being the rent the shop pays. And, then, one asks, why do they pay so much rent? The multi-level parking, the imported designer facades, the escalators, the mall interiors, the air-conditioned environment? Maybe, if a mall could also include some low-maintenance spaces and allow for local brands to flourish just as much as the international brands find home here?

radha said...

The malls have really taken over. And unfortunately many are unplanned, hideous structures that have no proper planning and no provision for parking. Of course we also have some big ones with ample space. I generally see these as spots for family outings. Which is sad. What happened to the picnics or the parks that we frequented when we were young? Children these days enjoy going for movies and thronging gaming sections rather than the old fashioned family outings where there was so much more interaction and fun. The only consolation for me is that all brands are under one roof and I am so bad at bargaining, that I am relieved to think that I am paying as much as the previous or next customer.

Sangi said...

Am seeing more of what you talk about - malls dying. Went to a HUGE mall in Coimbatore - the host family took me and my friend along. The crowds were huge, the space was huge, every brand was there. Yet, about 5% of the people went out carrying a bag of stuff bought at the mall.

A one year old mall, shall be tracking it to see what happens. The only mall in Coimbatore to date.

Indian Bazaars said...

Radha: I agree with you that the 'all brands under one roof' is an advantage with the malls. When you are in a hurry you rush in and rush out with what you need before a trip.

On the other hand, in the old days, there were no brands, no ready-mades. There was no Fab-India until some years ago and we bought fabric from the shop in the bazaar and went to the old-time tailor we had been going to since ages. I guess somewhere along the road, the tailors weren't as good as before and the ready-made garment sector became bigger and better.

For me, the bargaining with the vegetable vendor is now non-existent. I can't speak Kannada, the local language here in Bangalore and although everyone speaks Hindi, it's not the same when you are bargaining for the right price! So, the supermarket, where you just put in pre-packed vegetables into a basket is definitely the easier option.

Sangi: It would be interesting, I guess, to see how people adapt to a first mall and especially when it is a grand one.