Shutters down in flop mall - Low footfall forces route rejig

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By SUBHRO SAHA
  • Published 25.01.08
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Mall mania has hit its first reality check-post.

The Gariahaat Mall, that sprang up next to Bijon Setu with much fanfare in September 2005, has come a cropper. Low footfall has forced most of the 60-plus retailers to down shutters and flee.

“Footfall dried up after the first few months and the mall management did nothing to boost retailer confidence,” alleges Raju Duggar, the director of ethnic-wear boutique Gatha, one of the stores that has beaten a hasty retreat.

The Rs 30-crore project, the maiden retail venture of Kishor Sanghani’s real estate firm, Toplight Commercials Limited, looks like a haunted house today, barely 28 months since its rollout, with anchor Westside and supermarket C3 all but functioning like standalone outlets.

Sanghani admits there’s little hope for the 103,000-sq-ft mall: “We are weighing the options of converting the structure into a commercial block or maybe bring in a footfall energiser, like a multiplex, and try another retail format.”

The possibility of a long-term lease-out to a major player like Reliance or Pantaloon Retail is not ruled out.

“Compared to an average business of Rs 1 crore per annum from each of our five outlets in town, The Gariahaat Mall store struggled to touch Rs 12 lakh,” says Samrendra Kumar of kids’ fashion wear chain Liliput, the latest victim of woeful walk-ins.

The Gariahaat Mall, if forced to change core usage to stay afloat, will be the first retail address in town to do so after being fully functional as a shopping mall for over two years.

“By the time this mall came up, Gariahat was no longer the hot shopping district in town. It did not have a strong crowd-puller and the ingress and egress were all wrong,” points out Abhijit Das, the regional director of Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj, international property consultants.

Faulty design leading to poor visibility and customer circulation at the mall has come under fire.

But architect Ranajit Gupta, who designed The Gariahaat Mall, argues there’s “nothing wrong” with his mall design, and blames the failure on the owners’ lack of drive and domain knowledge. “Maybe a retrofit solution is needed to make the structure viable,” Gupta says.

Calcutta has already seen one instance of such mall modification. Avani Galleria, on Park Street, which was being promoted as the city’s first exclusive ladies’ mall, is now becoming an office block — the developers feel retail won’t work there. And the market buzz is that Ffiringi Bazaar, on the Bypass, is planning a similar route change.

“Unless there’s a check on indiscriminate development and people keep coming into retail without critical inputs, we will soon have to do adaptive reuse of many derelict malls,” warns Unmesh Kirtikar, an architect and the joint secretary of think-tank body Centre for Built Environment.

The retail-real estate fraternity, however, is not seeing doomsday in The Gariahaat Mall fiasco, labelling it a one-off failure, triggered by inherent flaws in design, product-mix and management.