Linking Road, circa 1960: A 740-metre narrow, tree-lined, residential boulevard, dotted with bungalows, an Irani restaurant called Fair Deal, and the suburb’s defining landmark - the Bandra Talkies theatre, a squat building conjoining Linking Road and SV Road.
Linking Road, 2009: A 1.74 km congested stretch of hawkers, junk food giants, more hawkers, branded boutiques, more hawkers, swanky malls, more hawkers, hip nightclubs and the suburb’s defining landmark –Shoppers’ Stop, the average Mumbaikar’s shopping paradise, built on the land where Bandra Talkies once stood.
Ishwar Ghashani, owner of Topsons, says his was the first big shop to open in 1961. “At that time, I could count a total of
10 cars that passed by the entire day,” he says. As he started to advertise, the garment store attracted several customers including yesteryear legends Nargis, Dharmendra, Manoj Kumar and Dilip Kumar. “Ours was the only good store in Bandra then,” recalls Ghashani. “It was our success that drew other entrepreneurs to open shop on Linking Road.”
By 1970, there were nearly 40 stores, and to cope with this rapid development, the authorities expanded the 60-foot road to 90 feet in 1973 and extended its demarcation of a commercial zone from the Linking Road-S.V. Road junction to beyond Citywalk, a popular shoe store. Hawkers, hungry for space, found this the perfect place to sell their wares and their numbers swelled post 1975.
But it was the opening of Shoppers’ Stop in 2001 that truly triggered the transformation of the erstwhile quiet locality of Linking Road into the chaotic commercial core of Bandra. Shoppers’ Stop’ COO Salil Nair says, “Linking Road is the retail destination in Mumbai. Although our flagship store was in Andheri, this was a logical extension as more than 50 per cent of shoppers were from the south of Andheri.” While Linking Road was already home to exclusive brand stores, Shoppers’ Stop pioneered the departmental store concept in the locality.
Bandra’s impressive retail repertoire spawned other commercial enterprises on Linking Road. McDonalds, opened an outlet here, satiating thousands of hungry bargain hunters. The Raheja Group’s KBN also emerged as Shoppers’ Stop upmarket counterpart. Housing the best of international designer wear, perfumes and accessories, the chic departmental store lent glamour to the fast-growing retail hub. Although KBN shut shop later on, it pioneered the trend of high-end labels.
Today, Linking Road reads like the who’s who of international brands – Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Puma, Levis, Benetton, Mango, Tommy Hilfiger, Esprit, and Nine West. Two new malls house the hi-tech Leena Mogre gym, the sprawling electronics store Croma and two of Bandra’s coolest clubs – Bonobo and Firangipani.
It might not be Mumbai’s answer to New York’s Fifth Avenue but Linking Road encompasses the city’s manic diversity. Where else would a McDonalds and KFC compete with a Sheetal Arch and Cream Centre and where else would a line of luxury boutiques succeed a longer line of street sellers?