We want phoren!
Once upon a time, these precursors to today's malls were THE place to shop. But with the transformation in the retail scene, much has changed. A report.
The scene is the Gift Center shop in Patni Plaza, Singapore Shopping Complex on N. S. C. Bose Road towards Wall Tax Road. A middle-aged lady shopper enters the store and asks for a foreign brand of sunblock cream for a child. Kalpesh Jain, the salesman, offers the lady shopper a choice of Indian sunscreen lotions and creams. But she is adamant - she wants her preferred foreign brand. This is the scene at many of the Singapore Plazas or 'Singapore' shopping complexes that had proliferated over the city a couple of decades ago, post the 1991 economic liberalisation policies.
"There are about three or four Singapore shopping centres or complexes or plazas in the Patni Plaza area itself," says Jaganathan, Proprietor of Janani Novelties Shop, one of the seventeen shops on the four floors of the Heera Panna, Singapore Shopping Complex, which stocks foreign and Indian goods such as cosmetics, perfumes, electronics goods, etc.,
No one knows who started this 'Singapore' shopping format but it certainly was an answer to the craze for foreign goods that prevailed in the 70s and the 80s. The 'Singapore' shopping format is a cluster of shops like a mall and. "the concept has been named imaginatively after Singapore, that entire country being a shopper's paradise," explains Sheshmal Patni, owner of the Patni Plaza which has four floors and a hundred shops.
"It is a marketing strategy which sends out the message that there are quality foreign goods available at the plaza. It also stirs the imagination of a first time shopper," says Sivakumar Jain of the nearby Naidu Plaza another 'Singapore' shopping complex. The fact that 'foreign' goods are easily available today seems to make no difference.
"In the decades after Independence there was a craze for foreign goods," says K. Natarajan, Manager of Maya's Plaza, Pondy Bazar, T. Nagar, which opened in 1994 and has five floors of sixty five shops. The plaza is certainly a shopper's delight for its choice of goods. "Indian goods at that point of time were shoddy in quality and were not up to the manufacturing standards of a foreign product. But today, Indian goods are on par," he says.
Earlier, if one wanted foreign goods, one had to visit the stretch of shops on Rajaji Salai, or the Burma Bazaar as it came to be known, since it was promoted by Burmese refugees way back in the late 1960s; or the equally popular Kasi Chetty Street in Sowcarpet. These shops offered the latest foreign goods such as cigarettes, perfumes, telephone handsets, TVs, CDs, cassette players, textiles, cosmetics, etc., And one knew only these shops if one wanted foreign goods." The goods were either smuggled contraband or confiscated goods, or duty paid goods that found their way into these shops and were sold for whopping prices.
But today things are different. "People have also begun to realize that goods from those very companies which used to be smuggled into the country, are now retailed in India from branded stores, and that makes all the difference," says Imtiaz, manager of Shopping Singapore on Madhavaram High Road, Perambur.
"We get foreign goods from authorized distributors and agencies," says P. N. Jailani, Manager Singapore 2000, a mega gift shop in the plaza format on Paper Mills Road, Perambur. Foreign goods are officially available from the US, UK, France, Germany, Korea, China, Japan. "See," he points to a cosmetic brand. "These come from Germany and they have counterparts that are manufactured in India too."