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NEIGHBOURHOOD MALL: The GCDA shopping complex on Marine Drive in Kochi. - Photo: H. VIBHU

NEIGHBOURHOOD MALL: The GCDA shopping complex on Marine Drive in Kochi. - Photo: H. VIBHU  

Huge shopping malls are an essential part of modern cities. They contribute to the making of the city's identity. Kochi, despite its reputation of being the commercial hub of Kerala, is home only to modest shopping complexes, rather than malls. Renu Ramanath finds out if the city is ready for the shopping mall era.

IN THESE days of the market-ruled economy, the shopping potential of a city or even a country has turned out to be a major mark of what is generally termed as its development.

Huge shopping centres have become the inevitable ingredients of a growing mega city.

Despite all the busy commercial activities in the city, the concept of large shopping malls is yet to take off in Kochi in a significant way.

However, this does not mean that the city has not seen any large space where shops of different kinds are brought under a single roof.

If you take into consideration the numerous `shopping complexes' that are springing up all along the city's main arteries housing dozens of shops, banks, telephone and Internet booths and cafeterias or ice-cream parlours, we can say that the culture has started taking roots.

Yet, nowhere in Kochi can you find a big-time place that matches all the definitions of a shopping mall. "You cannot find the shopping mall concept here as yet," says the Kochi-based architect Ajith B.R, who has been involved with a number of the major development projects in the city. He points out that the shopping mall has manifold functions. "It is a mini city. There will be restaurants, bars, snack bars and even a multiplex theatre. It is basically conceived as a place where a family can spend an entire day," Mr. Ajith says.

The Commercial Complex run by the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) along the Marine Drive, could have been the first such place in Kochi, one that combined a large number of business establishments and eateries under one roof, enabling people to take a stroll amidst the glittering shops and enjoy the sea breeze blowing from the backwaters. So far, it is perhaps the only shop and stroll place in the city. Though a few attempts at setting up big-time shopping complexes qualifying as malls had been made here, none of them seem to have proven quite successful.

However, the Gold Souk and Wedding Souk, coming up soon along the NH Bypass near Vyttila, could spark off a new trend in the culture of shopping in Kochi. Mr. Ajith, who is associated with the construction of the project, says that the complex could give a new experience to the residents of Kochi.

Spread over about 2.4 acres of land near Vyttila, the Souk will have about 150 shops, with parking space for 400 vehicles.

The complex will have a speciality restaurant, food courts, care centre for children, conference halls, exhibition hall, and even a discotheque. In the second phase, even a multiplex theatre is being planned.

"The idea of the mall is suited perfectly for developing cities. It reduces the congestion on the roads by bringing everything under one roof," points out Mr. Ajith.

In busy metros, the concept of single shops is becoming redundant, it is pointed out.

The mall makes shopping a convenient experience by offering ample parking space and the possibility of finding all you need under one roof, without having to worry about flitting between this shop and that one through the chaotic traffic.

"The main idea is to save the trouble of negotiating heavy traffic while hopping from one shop to another," Mr. Ajith says.

"The concept of shopping malls will catch on in Kochi soon," says Anuj Gopakumar, another Kochi-based architect. "The concept is picking up and has a good future, especially with the retail market in India growing at such a fast rate."

The retail market of India records a growth rate of 10 per cent to 15 per cent a year, he points out. This leads to increased consumer spending, which is expected to become double by 2010.

Mr. Anuj points out that consumer articles such as mobile phones, footwear, furniture, books and music share the largest amount of space in shopping malls. Shoppers' Stop and Lifestyle in Bangalore are good examples for Indian shopping malls. "Gold, textiles and food are the three product areas that call for serious marketing in Kerala," according to him.

Another mall coming up in Kochi will be Metro One, located at Kaloor. The five-storied complex with central air-conditioning and escalators will come up opposite Hotel Gokulam Park Inn, next to the Kaloor Bus Stand.

However, Mr. Ajith warns of the important factors that the authorities have to take into consideration while promoting the concept of shopping malls. "The Government should ensure that the malls do not come up in the already cramped quarters of the city," he says. "The authorities will have to issue some kind of a directive as to where the malls should come up. It should be planned carefully."

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