By Vinder Sandhu
Surrey is known in the world for its array of speciality shopping malls offering everything that is Indian especially Punjabi be it clothes, food, accessories or the style
Surrey was a farming community back in the seventies and eighties. Many of the South Asian families residing in Vancouver had never heard or visited Surrey. It felt like a city somewhere far, far away.
But now diverse, multicultural, youthful, and still growing, this urbanized, spread-out city has come a long way from its early agricultural roots. In the 20th century, six major town centres emerged in Surrey: Cloverdale, Guildford, Newton, South Surrey and Whalley (now known as City Centre.)
We have South Asians and Somali people in Newton, the Chinese in Guildford and South Surrey areas, and Koreans in Fraser Heights, with Arabic speaking people in Guildford and lastly a high population of Filipinos sprinkled all over. Of course, Caucasians are still the majority of the population. So yeah, we are multicultural; our Fusion Festival highlights it perfectly.
Though just like any other metropolitan city it has its challenges, but unlike mainstream media’s portrayal, the city is not just about gangs and gun violence.
Surrey is a well known Indian shopping destination for people across Canada and North America.
The South Asian community of Surrey has collectively put it on the world map; through the hugely successful Nagar Kirtan held every April, in Punjabi movies and songs, and lastly, with our dedicated Indian shopping complex!
Little India or Little Punjab are the two names the area around 128 Street and 80 Avenue is known as in Surrey. This area has become a hub of high end shopping for the South Asian community, and an area where many services from photography to cell phone providers are conducted in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi languages. South Asians come from as far away as California, Alberta and even, Saskatchewan to do their shopping here. In fact, some store owners share how international travellers have heard of this area and come specifically to shop here, to take that obligatory suit home. The availability of a variety of choices in many price points for clothes and jewellery is one of the main reasons people shop here.
While the York Centre and Punjab Cloth House continue to anchor 80th Avenue, properties along the busy 128th Street are a mix of industrial buildings and small retail stores. The Payal Centre remains the core of the commercial area. One of the first complexes to be built solely to cater to the Indian market was York Center back in early 2000. Manydidn’t think successful Vancouver based businesses will leave their established Main Street neighborhood to open up shops here in Surrey. The few new shops that had opened on 120st/Scott Road didn’t seem to be interested either in moving to a more expansive location in a complex.Also, many felt a shop on a busy street provided free advertisement.
As this center started to fill up with shops and service oriented business, some smart developers realized there is a demand for another such complex. Payal Centre came to be. It took more than two years after presale before ground was broken to build Payal Centre’s first building. Starting at $175 dollars a square foot, businesses now can’t find space at over $500 dollars a square foot!
One of the first investors was Mona Arora, Realtor with Remax Performance Realty. Mona shared how she was skeptical in the beginning, but being someone who had a vision, she took the plunge and bought over 2000 square feet of space in the first building.
“I was anxious, but also optimistic since our community was growing so fast there would be demand for such shopping places,” says Mona. She wasn’t a realtor at the time and with this savvy investment, she was able to profit nicely years later. Mona goes on to say now as a realtor, she is competing with many other buyers trying to get into this complex.
She explains the reason for this demand, “Take a drive through PayalCentreand see for yourself how busy it is at any given time,” was Mona’s answer.
She’s right. On any given day finding parking is a challenge around the popular shops. There are many businesses that only cater to one type of product. There are shoes only stores, costume jewellery stores, wedding themed stores and of course, the several banquet halls. Along with these businesses, fringe services like tailors, beauty parlours and photography services are also present here.
One of the last businesses from Main Street to open a store here in Surrey is Guru Bazaar. Guru Bazaar’s proprietor Sunny sums it up perfectly to why he moved his iconic store from Vancouver.
“To make it easier for our long term customers to access us and to find new customers.”
Sunny goes on to explain it was a clear choice, “In Vancouver, where we have been for over 40 years, we had many devoted customers who appreciated our quality products and the choices we provided them. Unfortunately, as Vancouver became more expansive to live in, and people started moving here, it became imperative for us to move as well.”
He says he understands customers might find it difficult to trek to Vancouver for 1 or 2 items and that they might make a special visit only if they had more to buy. By moving their store here, to the heart of Surrey’s Indian community, he gave his customers a reason to come to his store each and every time, regardless of the amount they may want to buy. He says now he has retained his long term customers and has added new ones from the growing population here.
Another proprietor, a newcomer to Canada, Sardar Shoes and Accessories owner Balwinder Singh, informed he came to Canada two years ago specifically to start a business. His family is in the shoe business so he came out here to see if there is a need his business could fill. His research directed him to Payal Centre where he is happily selling women’s, men’s and children’s party and traditional shoes, and accessories.
Another business catering to South Asian needs is Red Carpet Events & Red Carpet Ready. It is a place you go to when you are looking to glamorize your home for wedding or party.
So, for all those who want a bit of Bollywood in their life all they need to do is go here, to this Indian commerce area, where they can shop for trendy Indian clothes, accessorize glamorously and lastly, walk over to one of the many beautiful banquet halls for a fun Indian evening!
The owner Polly shared similar reason for selecting this location for her business –one stop shop for all your needs, especially for great big fat Indian wedding. However, as the demand for South Asian consumer goods go up, the demand for more and more such complexes too is going up. Situated on 128 street and 80th Avenue, Little India is getting ready to open its doors. . As the website mentions Little India Plaza will comprise a mix of services and retail targeted at South Asian residents and visitors. The development by Wales McLelland Construction and Northwest Development is set on a triangular lot and will have five buildings. The total project value is mentioned as under 12 million.
Business owners are a bit sceptical about new developments. Polly says as new complexes are built the old ones are abandoned by the occupants. “Look at Khalsa Center. It is now not as full as it used to be. Maybe if businesses stay where there are we would then know how big our community is really getting.”
That is food for thought.