An unfinished Pacific Mall (now only Pacific Cinemas)
Follow Up: For its inaugural piece Opinion Tandoor looked at shopping malls in Agra. As the concept of ‘shopping malls’ has taken a hit world over as well as in India, this story from about three years ago pronounced it a failure in the city. A three year interlude has provided a good opportunity to reassess if shopping malls still languish or if they have managed to gain some ground in the local economy.
Taking things forward from where they were left off, the two shopping malls that were discussed in the last piece in much detail- TDI and Pacific malls on the Fatehabad leading to the Taj Mahal, have not witnessed a change in their fortunes. If anything things have gone from bad to worse. Especially the Pacific mall, the first ever mall to open shop in the city, remains deserted, unfinished and completely abandoned but for the Pacific cinemas on the top floor, which took over the multiplex after Fun Cinemas left.
Many shops have shifted locations
Adjacent to it stands TDI mall- a fully finished massive shopping complex, close to the township which the TDI group had launched shortly after Yamuna Expressway had begun construction and plans were announced to link it to Fatehabad road through a six lane ring road. Yamuna expressway is up and about and the ring road has also begun to come up. Yet the fortunes of this mall as well as the township have crashed and not risen. Much like three years ago Big cinemas occupies the top floor. Except for a few handicrafts and apparel stores and a solitary Mc Donald’s restaurant, all shops remain deserted. Stores planning to launch here have been launched elsewhere and many others have shifted locations from here.
One of the reasons that these malls crashed and burned is the pre-emptive strategy. As already mentioned Yamuna expressway- one of its kind in the entire country, was announced and the city’s real estate sector went berserk. Small landowners began to profit from selling their lands to big real estate companies both from Agra and outside. New townships were launched. The entire Fatehabad and Shamshabad road (running parallel to each other) area became proliferated with commercial and residential projects. TDI and Pacific malls were also a part of this craze.
Yamuna expressway took time to come up. The ring road was not even in conception phase until last year. Residential projects were left lurking in the predominantly rural outskirts of the city where no one was ready to move yet. As a result a strong consumer base never materialised near these shopping malls who might have thronged these complexes. A very touristy area- Fatehabad Road which houses all the big multi-national hotel groups did not help out in terms of foot fall, because firstly tourists usually don’t come to foreign countries to visit their shopping malls and secondly the area was heavily influenced by tourist guide lobbies without whose endorsements most shops fail to profit in the area.
Meanwhile recession hit the globe and most multi-national and national scale retail outlets were also affected. With a dwindling consumer base shops in these malls were first to be closed, but eventually opened up elsewhere as single stores or part of conventional shopping complexes.
Relative Success Elsewhere
In the other parts of the city two other malls followed. One came up in the central business area of the city- Sanjay Place. This vertically elongated mall named Ashok Cosmos run by a local entrepreneur, never opened up on full scale. A Reliance store, a Mc Donald’s restaurant, an Easy Day store and a Tata car dealership were and still are the only running shops here. Contrary to the trend the mall never opened up a multiplex. Situated right in the heart of the city, with a huge office complex, many businesses, city’s computer hub, shops, banks and other commercial establishments and offices nearby, the mall has always had a decent footfall. With a small amphitheatre outside the mall it also plays host to many big and small events such as product promotions, mini-concerts, festival celebrations etc.
Shopping Malls in Agra
The other mall is located on the National Highway-2 which connects Delhi and Kolkata bypassing Agra. Originally planned as a Wedding Mall, this shopping complex is now known as the SRK mall named after a local entrepreneur. Following convention it houses a Cineplex belonging to the SRS franchise. This mall has been perhaps the most successful. Much like Ashok Cosmos, it too never opened up on full scale operations, but remains more successful in that it still manages to attract new stores opening up, even those which closed shop in other malls in the city such as Pantaloons and Archie’s previously located within TDI and Pacific Malls respectively besides the existing successfully running Shopper’s Stop among others.
Omaxe SRK Mall never opened at full scale and continues to add stores along the way.
National highway being close to the central parts of the city and many residential and commercial developments having come up on the bypass road itself provide a substantial consumer base to let this mall prosper and build upon its relative success.
Cardinal Rule of Real Estate: Location
Location plays an important role in deciding the fate of real estate. Trajectory of shopping malls in Agra certainly proves this. The fact that the earlier shopping malls located in the southern areas of the city, close to Taj Mahal failed while those inside and nearer to main business district of the city continue to sustain, proves this to an extent. Real estate sector has a long gestation period for successful materialisation. Thus pre-emptive whole sole investment in case of TDI and Pacific Malls was a clear miscalculation of prospective opportunities.
Meanwhile location of malls in and around busy areas show that presence of a longstanding middle and upper class elite in an area is important for trying out newer concepts of shopping and other lifestyle opportunities. More than the shopping malls individual stores and open access shopping complexes have thrived in the central parts of the city especially along the arterial Mahatma Gandhi (M.G.) Road.
Resurgence of Traditional Businesses
For some reasons traditional options of shopping and leisure never quite went away in the city. A general decline in single screen movie theatre culture witnessed with the closing down of some massive units such as Anjana cinema (with largest capacity of seats) and Shah Talkies nearby, saw some resurgence when some of the previously lower rated single screen theatres such as Mehar talkies renovated themselves and adapted multiple film screening format in single screen theatres itself- perhaps a local innovation.
Singularly standing retail stores and culinary franchise units have continued to thrive in the city. These include both, owned by multinational retail chains as well as by local trading elite. At the same time traditional bazaars like on in the cantonment area- Sadar Bazaar continue to attract a lot of foot fall and customers. A deeper analysis of local shopping culture and consumer behaviour can better reveal the reason for this phenomenon.
Lessons from Agra
A predominantly trading and business based city, Agra provides some important lessons. Even with relative success of shopping malls in other parts of city than the initial ones, these still remain a long way from fully blooming. Huge investments and slow returns do not add up well. As already mentioned shopping mall culture is on a decline worldwide. Perhaps it is time to assess whether shopping mall is an idea whose time has come and gone.