|The New Market area on Saturday.
Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta and Anindya Shankar Ray
It’s that time of the year again, when the mall-market
divide gets blurred in the Puja shopping frenzy. Metro goes around town to catch the buzz
Serpentine queues greeted shoppers on Saturday, the second day of the extended weekend before Puja, and they waited for hours to pick out the right outfit and then to pay for it. The pavements, displaying everything from apparel to trinkets and shoes to linens, offered no space to walk. Shoppers vied for space with vehicles on Bidhan Sarani.
Madhuchanda Bose, waiting at the billing counter at KC Dass Fashion, said: “We get quality products here at reasonable rates.” The store records a footfall of over 2,000 on pre-Puja weekends.
“Sales pick up two months before Puja and peak in the last few days,” said employee Uttam Pal. Puja sales were 10 times that of the entire year put together, he added.
A personal touch and tradition help the age-old markets score over malls in the run-up to Puja. “If I don’t like a dress, I can get it changed whenever I want. At the mall, I have to go at a specified time,” said Ruma Ghosh from Baranagar.
An employee at Panjabi Museum on Bidhan Sarani said: “We are selling goods worth around Rs 20,000 daily now.”
There was not an inch of parking space on either side of Rashbehari Avenue. The pavements had disappeared under hawkers and their ware and a sea of shoppers. Some men tried hard to lure customers to air-conditioned shops. But with shoppers packed like sardines inside, the air-conditioning offered little comfort. Grabbing a salesman’s eye or getting your purchase billed called for greater skills.
“Even those who don’t shop throughout the year, shop for Puja. More panjabis are selling at the last moment compared with saris,” said Madhusudan Saha of Kinnor Kinnoree in Gariahat. The store usually downs shutters at 8.30pm, but on Friday the rush ensured that it remained open past 10pm, he added.
The scene was the same at Benarasi Kuthi. “People are mostly picking up saris in the Rs1,000-1,500 price range,” said N. Bhattacharya, the owner.
Shopper Sapna Kar said: “I go to malls for everyday stuff, but there is no alternative to the sari stock at Gariahat.”
Shoppers didn’t have to walk in the Esplanade area, they were pushed forward by the “invisible hand” of Calcutta’s shopping frenzy. At Shreeram Arcade, security checks were forgotten and the gates thrown open to the crowds. For trendy wear, Shreeram Arcade is the pop pick and for ethnic wear, Treasure Island, said shoppers.
Shopkeepers can’t stop smiling. “Puja sales are double of what we sell throughout the year,” said Naveen Sharma of Miss Island at Treasure Island. “Puja is the time for making money. People might indulge in window shopping at other times, but not now,” smiled Indrajeet Tiwari, the owner of Mystique at Shreeram Arcade.
Though some shopkeepers admitted that Puja sales were not as high as in previous years, the downturn seemed to have made no dent in Debarati Mukherjee’s budget, who came to Shreeram Arcade from Behala. “We get trendy stuff here. In malls, many pieces of a single variety are displayed, but here one is spoilt for choice,” she said.
A group of youngsters chatted amid glasses of cold coffee at Goutam’s, but the shops were not crowded. It was the penultimate day of the City Centre Shopping Festival and Seuli Singh, the store manager at Color Plus, said sales had increased by 30-35 per cent in the run-up to Puja. She denied that traditional markets eat into the mall’s customer base during Puja and insisted “one’s gain is not another’s pain”.
Model Madhurima Mukherjee said malls were “way more comfortable”, but she still visits Gariahat or New Market for traditional wear.
Rusa Banerjee, an executive at the mall, said malls were designed for customers looking for “high-end” products. “We benefit because we have a lot of vanilla stores too, along with the branded ones.”
Special events at Mani Mahotsav and Jackie Shroff shooting for Lal Salaam were the crowd-pullers on Saturday.
Rajesh Watwani, the manager of the Turtle store, said sales had gone up by 30 per cent before Puja. Namgay Tenzing, 22, said he was a regular at Vardaan Market but now prefers malls. “Fashion is important and I like high-end branded products,” he said.
Sudeshna Hazra, the head of events and speciality leasing at Mani Square, said malls score on comfort given Calcutta’s hot and humid weather. Other facilities like parking space, food court and plexes also draw Puja customers.
An album launch for Fossils ensured the mall was mobbed, but the stores were not packed. But Vishal Banga, the manager at the Woodland outlet, said: “Footfall has increased by 200 per cent and sales by 50 per cent.” Anurag Kaur, an aspiring pilot, said: “Malls are better for men since we have many more options here as opposed to street-shopping.”
Man Mohan Bagree, the vice-president (commercial and marketing) of South City Mall, said he wouldn’t pit malls against markets. “The marketing strategies and target audience of both are completely different. The new generation is more inclined towards malls because of its variety”.
Jhinuk Mazumdar and Ranjabati Das