(Marketplace has always been at the center-stage of marketing activities. In epic parlance, consumers and marketers all come and go, but the marketplace stays. In this series of articles, we try to bring to you our take on some of the iconic marketplaces from around India.)
Anyone living in Kolkata or having gone shopping in the city would know of the erstwhile S.S.Hogg Market better known to Kolkatans as New Market. Across India you would come across many such markets which have become part of the fabric of those cities. Here I intend to present to you this legendary market of Kolkata and how it evolved over the years and probably connect you to memories of that special “bazaar” in your own city which you probably visited as a child or still do today.
New Market opened its doors to the British in Kolkata on January 1, 1875. It was conceptualized as a “White man’s market” as the English here at that time no longer wanted to rub shoulders with the locals in the marketplace. It was initially called the Municipal New Market. In 1903, the name was changed to SS Hogg Market after Sir Stuart Hogg, the chairman of the Calcutta Corporation and the Commissioner of Police. It was built at a cost of Rs.6, 55,277 and the original design was by Roskell Bayne for which he was awarded the princely sum of Rs. 1000/-. The market building, barring the clock tower, is reminiscent of the Marylebone Station in London. On December 11, 1985 a major fire destroyed a large part of the northern section. It was later rebuilt and opened again in the early 1990s.
So what is so special about New Market that I decided to expend premium space on The Marketers to bring this story to you? Well for starters while Zoning is an evolving concept in organized retail and new-age malls, New Market has always been divided into sections that house shops selling a particular category of products. Also the core strength of New Market was the “Shopping Experience” it has always given its customers. It’s one of those places where you come and simply laze around and explore to your heart’s content, bargain just for the sake of bargaining and finally buy stuff which you believe are not only priced superbly but also stuff which would last long.
Many a restaurant or bakery owner in Kolkata would go to New Market not only because they are assured of hard to find, good quality stuff but also because most of the times the shopkeepers there would simply know exactly what they are looking for. It’s a place where you garner “relationships”. And as we move towards a mall and hypermarket culture this is that part of the “Shopping Experience” that we probably are in the danger of losing forever.
It’s not that things have always been hunky dory for New Market. Construction of an underground parking lot took almost 5 years having started in 2004-2005. This not only obstructed movement of people, it also made the whole place dusty and impossible to navigate in a car. Then there are the more common problems of apathy by the shopkeepers, complacence, absence of basic amenities like signs giving out directions, “guides” accosting foreigners and making their experience miserable (some of them have written posts telling people of their horrid experience and suggesting them to never go there) among others. The biggest challenge though has been something which all such heritage markets in India face today – the sprouting of numerous malls and hypermarkets in Kolkata. These are the places where the young today like to hangout and which essentially provide people with a complete experience – go to shop, watch a nice movie, have dinner and head back home.
Amazingly though since 2009 when the construction on the parking space was completed, New Market has made a comeback of sorts. Sales have seen a 10-15% spike and people have again rediscovered this part of Kolkata on their radars.
So what’s happening? Well for starters the area looks cleaner today. The shopkeepers have organized themselves and overlook the overall development like building toilets for women, putting up basic directions etc. But I think the main change has been the acknowledgement by the shopkeepers of the challenge posed by the new age malls. They have also discovered probably that everything said and done, they can provide people with “an educating experience”, an “old world charm” which probably a mall cannot at least as of today.
What about the experience? There are cinema halls in the New Market area too and the tickets are invariably cheaper than the ones at a multiplex. As for the street food there – it has always been unbeatable. Add to all this the factor of developing relationships and what you have is a winning combination no mall can ever beat.
So what’s the best road ahead? Well, what essentially needs to be done is probably unite all these facets together and set towards facing the challenges in an organized way with achievable and incremental goals!! What do you think?