Mumbaiwale: Mohalla shopping on a whole new level
I’ve been passing through Bhendi Bazaar and Mohammed Ali Road for more than 25 years. In my youth, en route to college, I once bunked a morning lecture because the whiff of hot nankhatai at Suleiman Usman Bakery was too hard to ignore. After the flyover was built, I’d zip towards South Mumbai, admiring the area’s beautiful jalis, building names (there’s an Africa House!) and architecture.
I’ve passed one balcony so often, I’ve seen nappies, then a tricycle, then baby dresses, leggings and recently a kurta and dupatta drying on the grille. I’ve never seen the girl, but she’s literally grown up before my eyes. I’ve followed Dawoodi Bohra fashions via the window display of Zahra’s rida boutique. And I’ve fantasised that the patrons of New Saifee Saddlery & Harness Stores are horses.
If you’re heading here for an iftaar or heritage trail, there’s a new pitstop now. The first cluster-developed skyscrapers of the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project are almost ready. The homes have more spacious rooms, a podium garden, prayer areas, fire alarms, and US-style garbage chutes.
Meanwhile two levels of a shopping arcade are already open. This is your chance to check out the neighbourhood’s oldest businesses – jewellers, leather craftsmen, tailors, haberdasheries, mithaiwallas, Unani medicine dealers, even a specialty pickle maker. New Saifee Saddlery has relocated too!
It’s the most peaceful bazaar in the neighbourhood. The escalators open to wide walkways with a view of the flyover, the mosque or the mohalla, with none of the jostling, dust, noise and labyrinthine chaos.
And the tenants are full of hope. Asif Merchant, one of a group of third-generation owners of the 80-year-old AK Zainuddin & Co and 42-year-old Maharashtra Foam Centre, deals in foam, rubber, coir and leather. “We’d been doing business here for so long, we had shops and warehouses in several lanes,” says Merchant, who runs the store with his uncle Saifuddin Kamruddin Harnesswala “This is a community-run project so we had faith in it, even though we lost some retail business because the transit shop was not on the ground floor.”
His new store is sprawling, consolidating all his scattered shops on a linked ground and first floor. “My new neighbours are all my old neighbours. My wholesale clients are my old clients. But we’re turning the ground-level area into a showroom, stocking furnishings too. The business never had this kind of an overhaul in my lifetime.”
A few stores ahead, at Sammy, a leather-goods boutique, proprietor Hasnain Changi (top right) recalls the time he moved into the neighbourhood 25 years ago. Theirs was a wholesale business, tucked away inside a building’s passageway, and perfect to service local shops without pesky individual shoppers dropping in. “But business changed – we went from hyper-local to pan-Indian – and alongside the buildings got dilapidated and there wasn’t enough money to repair them,” he says.
Four years of redevelopment meant enough time to examine his business. “We’ve designed the new store to be more retail-friendly and people are dropping in for one wallet, one belt, which we didn’t encourage before,” he says. Sammy is on the first floor, which unusually for a retailer, suits Changi fine. “I sell quality goods at a higher price than the cheap stuff on the street. I don’t want everyone dropping in.”
Rashida Lokhandwalla’s store, Zarrin Arts, stocks the most colourful trimmings and frills for ridas and offers customisation and embroidery work fas well. She’s taken on from her mother-in-law, who expanded her home business 30 years ago, when colourful ridas were just getting popular. They operated for years out of an unnamed store inside a building near the staircase. No display. No frontage.
“When redevelopment was first mentioned, when they measured that shop, we couldn’t even visualise what they were saying,” Lokhandwala says. “But we’re thrilled with the new store. We have a view of the street. Shoppers can see us and drop in. There’s higher footfall and I have new customers – even within an area where I thought everyone knew us already. It’s so cool!”