HT Special | Reviving Chandigarh Sector 17: Flight of restaurants and shoppers | punjab$chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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HT Special | Reviving Chandigarh Sector 17: Flight of restaurants and shoppers

The heart of the city is getting weaker by the day. This is how a trader described the journey of Sector 17, which has seen a rapid slide in its fortunes in the last decade or so. Not long back in 2009, the sector figured among the top 10 retail locations of Asia; it was ranked ninth, just one spot behind Mumbai’s Linking Road. Its rentals soared as big brands tried to gain a toehold in a space, called the gateway to the north.

punjab Updated: Feb 28, 2017 13:16 IST
Monica Sharma
APPETISING NO MORE: It’s curtains for Mehfil, one of the oldest restaurants in Sector 17, which used to chock-a-block with diners.
APPETISING NO MORE: It’s curtains for Mehfil, one of the oldest restaurants in Sector 17, which used to chock-a-block with diners.(Sanjeev Sharma/HT photo)

The heart of the city is getting weaker by the day. This is how a trader described the journey of Sector 17, which has seen a rapid slide in its fortunes in the last decade or so. Not long back in 2009, the sector figured among the top 10 retail locations of Asia; it was ranked ninth, just one spot behind Mumbai’s Linking Road. Its rentals soared as big brands tried to gain a toehold in a space, called the gateway to the north.

FALL IN FOOTFALL

But ever since the mall culture hit the city, it’s been all downhill for it. The market forces—competition from squeaky clean, high-end malls, and the fall in footfall due to the shifting of several offices, district courts and ISBT to Sector 43—have dealt a severe blow to the sector, which no longer commands a monopoly on big brands. Online shopping portals have also dented its popularity.

Blaming poor maintenance for the decline in footfall, Empire Store’s Subhash Gulati says, “I can’t really provide an exact figure. But on an average, we issue 300 bills a day against at least 500 a year ago.”

Naresh Kumar of the Softy Corner says, “More than 25,000 people visit the plaza in a day. They include visitors and government employees who have offices in Sector 17.”

This number pales in front of the 70,000-plus footfall at Zara in Elante on a week day.

FLIGHT OF RESTAURANTS

The sector has witnessed a flight of brands and eating houses as well. Barista and Oven Fresh, for instance, are no longer a presence here. Owner of a prominent eating joint blamed this flight on the advent of restaurants in Sector 26 and malls in Industrial Area. Amanbir Singh, director of Hot Millions, says the business has fallen by 15% to 20% due to the dip in footfall and increase in options for shopping as well as eating out in other sectors. “Earlier, Sector 17 had a near monopoly on both,” he explained.

Moti Mahal and Mehfil, two popular restaurants in Sector 17 C, have also closed down. Jiggs Kalra set up a fine dining place called Punjab Grill, only to close it. Even BJP leader Harmohan Dhawan had tried venturing into the food business about ten years ago by opening Mr Burger, but it too had to shut down. The restaurant owners blame it on a combination of factors that include fall in footfall, high overhead expenses and rentals.

The Indian Coffee House is one of the few hangouts in the sector, which still attracts a considerable crowd, thanks mainly to its pocket-friendly rates.

RENTALS NOSEDIVE

The skyrocketing rentals have fallen by almost 40% in the last ten years. A ground floor showroom, which used to command about Rs 20 lakh is down to Rs 13 lakh, and in some cases even as less as Rs 8 lakh. Subhash Gulati, owner of Empire Stores, says now a big ground floor showroom goes on rent for anywhere between Rs 7 lakh and Rs 9 lakh, which is a steep fall from 10 years ago.

The first floor rent has also tumbled to anywhere between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. Sudarshan Kumar Jain, who runs the Adidas showroom, agrees that the rentals are continuing to drop with every passing year.

APPALLING APATHY OF ADMINISTRATION

Most of the traders blame administrative apathy for the general decline of the sector, citing problems such as proliferation of beggars, insanitary conditions, chaotic parking, and encroachment by vendors.

The traders say the focus of the administration has been on Sector 17 D and E, which comprise the plaza, while other areas like Sector 17 A and B, including the bank square, are in a dismal state. The area near the bridge in Sector 17 B is an eyesore with construction material still lying around. Sector 17 A requires urgent attention.

PICTURE OF DISCONTENT

The sector had three theatres – Neelam, KC and Jagat – of which only two are functional at present. Though Jagat was recently converted into a multiplex, it is just beginning to get a healthy footfall. Insiders say the owner was forced to limit the number of seats due to the city by-laws.

HIGH STREET

Kamaljit Singh Panchhi, president of Chandigarh Traders Association, Sector 17, agrees that business has fallen by 40% due to the advent of the mall culture and online shopping portals, coupled with a sluggish market. Others, however, claim that the sector still manages to attract serious shoppers. Shopping in Sector 17 is akin to visiting a high street, you can’t compare it to a mall, claim traders.

As Chandigarh Beopar Mandal chairman Charanjiv Singh puts it: “Shopping amidst the fresh air in the plaza has always attracted the tourists. The central plaza in Sector 17 was designed as a pedestrian’s paradise by Le Corbusier. It’s an altogether different experience.”

TIPS FROM TRADERS
  • Draw up a master plan for reviving Sector 17, which does not change with a change of guard
  • Make the plaza a hub of cultural activities and exhibitions
  • Remove or regulate the vendors
  • Transform it into a verdant high street with landscaping
  • Improve the sanitation conditions and parking

WHAT THEY SAY:

Ashok Kumar, owner of multiplex in Sector 17 B (KC group)

The deteriorating condition of Sector 17 is due to the indifferent attitude of the authorities over the years. The business has been hit by vendors, who have been allowed to display their stuff in the corridors. No one has thought of coming up with a master plan for this sector.

Suraj Sood, owner of a showroom, Sector 17 D

The business in Sector 17 has definitely suffered because of online portals and coming up of malls. The plaza is a victim of administrative apathy. The authorities have ruined it by giving licences to vendors. The glory of Sector 17 is no more the same and no one seems to be serious to revive and promote it as the business hub.

Tanya Abrol, Actor

I remember we used to visit the plaza to see some great performances every weekend. Administration needs to get its act together. The authorities should revive the practice of holding performances of well deserving artists. I am shocked to see that so many shops have closed down in the place, which used to be a lifeline for us.

Kamaljit Singh Panchhi, President of Chandigarh Traders Association, Sector 17

There is no denying that business has been hit in Sector 17. There are many factors responsible for it, be it coming up of malls, encroachment by vendors and shifting of the ISBT. The sector is on the worldmap,andthe administration should plan to give it a new lease of life.

Neeraj Bajaj, President of the Business Promotion Council, Sector 17

The original beauty of Sector 17 has not been maintained by the administration The vendors are an eyesore in the sector.and their number is increasing day by day. It becomes difficult to even walk down the corridors. The Municipal Corporation should remove them.

Avni Tuli, PU student

We hardly come here any longer. We like visiting malls due to lot of a variety under one roof. They also hold many activities. The administration should host concerts, exhibitions etc, to attract the youth. Heart of the city should be buzzing with activity . Food kiosks should also be promoted, offering food at reasonable rates.

(THIRD OF SEVEN-PART SERIES, TOMORROW:VENDORS’ WOES)