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A Major Mall and a Mushrooming Community

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July 2003
A Major Mall and a Mushrooming Community

By KAVITA CHHIBBER

A community, it can be said, is only as strong as its resources and facilities. If that is so, the Global Mall - which has shaped up as a mammoth community center ? may have raised the strength of the Indian American as well as of the larger South Asian community by a notch or two.

Critics may argue that the Mall is nothing more than a commercial enterprise ? a shopping plaza. But is it? Here's describing the Global Mall for those who have yet to make the pilgrimage to this much talked of ?largest mall of its kind amongst all Indian Americans centers in the U.S.'

Located in Norcross, on Jimmy Carter Boulevard, close to interstate I-85 in northeast metro Atlanta, the mall is spread over 9 acres and boasts 1000 parking spaces. The built area is over 220,000 square feet. At over a year of its conversion to a shopping plaza and center catering to the fast growing Indian community, the mall features various retail shops such as for jewelry, sarees, video rental and more. Besides, it has a food court featuring restaurants offering North Indian, South Indian, chaat, and more.

A banquet facility with a capacity of 700 is fast becoming a central venue for many private and public Indian events. Other draws are a popular Shiv Mandir, tutorial classes, Indian classical dance and music classes, beauty saloon, photo studio, and even professional offices such as of travel agencies, insurance, accountants and others ? all consisting of desi tenants catering to desi clientele.

A sports and recreation center is an Indian style club that offers, besides billiards and table tennis, uniquely Indian games such as carrom. From buying concert tickets for Indian events, to sampling 150 (!) different kind of mukhwas (an Indian after-dinner mouth freshener), you can do it all at the Global Mall.

Unmistakably Indian

With all this under one roof, it doesn't take much to realize that this place is more than just that; it's an experience? an Indian experience! Like the theme song of the popular sitcom Cheers, for its regulars, the Global Mall is a place "Where everyone knows your name."

So how is this different than other retail clusters that cater to the community? For one, Global Mall is more than just a retail location; it's a community center. And since it's a private, commercial enterprise, rather than a non-profit community organization, it is not encumbered by politics of board members or the ever present financial crunch that many such associations face.

To illustrate, the IACA is by far the most representative and active umbrella organization for the community in Atlanta (though by no means, the largest). It has had plans for quite some time to build an India Center, but as can be expected, with executive teams that change every year, and with funds always an issue, progress can be understandably slow.

On the other hand, there are well funded associations such as the Gujarati Samaj which has a proud facility in the Sardar Bhavan Hall in Tucker. But by its very nature, it serves a narrow segment of Indians ? the Gujaratis. Moreover, as a center, it offers limited experiences compared to a versatile, multifaceted place such as the Global Mall - which like India itself, is multi ethnic and diverse.

For nostalgic seniors and fresh-off-the-boat desis, the mall takes them back home, at least in spirit. Being an indoor venue with long, wide corridors, many find it good enough to just hang out or get an evening walk (at least, during those cold winter days). Mrs. Pushpa Wadhera, a recent visitor, mentioned that seniors feel good just walking in an environment that could well be similar to any city back home.

Such experiences abound at the Mall. Earlier this year, during the Cricket World Cup that was played in South Africa, the India Sports & Recreation Center had arranged live telecasts of the matches which were enjoyed with typical frenzy. Similarly, a recent Anup Jalota-Ghulam Ali concert went a long way towards bridging barriers between Indian and Pakistani Atlantans.

Afshan Ishtiar, who comes to the mall every week because her son is taking SAT classes at one of the tutorials, loves the desi atmosphere and feels very much at home. She wishes however, that there was a caf� kind of place for parents to sit and mingle while their kids attended the various classes that are offered.

On a recent afternoon, Tushar Sathe, Amit Agarwal and the Patel family of Kiran, Pallavi, Neil and Parul were all enjoying at the food court. Tushar, Neil and Kiran were first time visitors and said they were really happy to see a lot of Indians in one place. Pallavi said that she loves everything about the mall. Amit comes once a month, but only because he lives far away from the mall. He says that he would love to see a section of the mall converted to a Delhi or Bombay street with a chaat wala and a paan wala to boot.

Jason Goldman and wife Jill came with their friends Tanvir and Tamara Chaudhry who are from Bangladesh. The Chaudhrys said they loved to see so many South Asians under one roof. Both couples loved the food, especially the samosas and the kulfi in a clay pot. Another visitor, Nisha Manan swore that the vada pau here is to die for!

Shanmugh Raja, a regular, says he loves to see children hanging out in the mall and the cultural activities geared towards kids. He adds that he misses having a bookstore in the mall and hopes that one specializing in Indian books and music would be established soon.

Work in progress: A vision shared

This brings us to what the mall lacks. According to some, much! To begin with, not all the space in the mall is fully leased. Some have observed that the mall is less than lively at slow times. Indeed, a few tenants did not hesitate in voicing concern about lulls in traffic. Tenants and visitors alike cited the lack of an Indian grocery store as a major void.

Mall owner, Shiv Aggarwal, a real estate investor, agrees that the project is still a work in progress.

Sharing his vision behind the mall, he described his visit to several Indian bazaars in Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Chicago and New Jersey, where he saw the disarray and dirt. This gave rise to the thought of creating a major desi mall which was well maintained and run as efficiently as its American counterparts.

Aggarwal says this is already a multi million-dollar project, but more money is being poured into it. Major exterior renovations are underway. More importantly, he shared that concrete negotiations are currently on, to bring in critical tenants such as grocery stores, an Indian cinema, and more. Besides, he also envisions a range of medical services in the form of a general practitioner, a pediatrician, a gynecologist, and other specialists.

To make the experience more exciting, a Brazilian bazaar is also in the works. Suresh Dudlani, one of the restaurateurs in the mall is enthusiastic about such diverse ethnic additions. Having done business in London amongst other places, Dudlani cites how Southhall, London which originally started as a predominantly Indian domain, soon evolved ? for the better ? to a multicultural hub. Similar maturation of the Global Mall to a multiethnic center would not only make it a more interesting experience for the current desi clientele, but would also attract the mainstream better.

Indeed, even now, the mall is not entirely and only about Indian shops. Star Zone, which is the anchor tenant on the main level, is an amusement arcade on the lines of Dave & Busters. It features a wide array of indoor games, stand-up comedy and live shows.

Whether a multicultural future is in store or not for the Global Mall, time will tell. Currently, it is unmistakably desi. Jay Raneiga of Legacy Jewelers, one of the shops in the mall, affirms, "Indians tend to bunch together. This is the closest you can get to Indianization in Atlanta." According to him, visitors even from larger hubs such as New York, Chicago, and California, comment that they have never seen anything like this mall which is specifically geared towards our market.

It is Sanjay Patel, who recently started a music school in the mall, that says it all when he says, "It's the entire atmosphere that makes the place what it is: the sights of Indian clothing, the sounds of ghungroos and classical music, the aroma of Indian cuisine?"


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