Whose fault is it, I wondered, when I entered this iconic location last weekend. The Mall was nearly empty on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Car Parking area, which is the core identity of any Mall or Shopping centre such as a Retail Store or a Hypermarket was barely full, with a few cars parked intermittently.
The ground floor has a Mercedes Benz Car parked in the atrium, with curious onlookers not even sure if they would like to go closeby. Basics, which has won the hearts of Chennaites being a local brand with an International appeal has shut store. And so have so many stores. Lifestyle Department Store, the Anchor store of the Mall wears a dull look. The security guard at the entrance seems unhappy and bored with almost no visitors for a while. Even some of the food outlets and a café which were doing some basic business seem to be shut. I walked up the Escalator and was surprised to see empty stores all over!
The Foodcourt was the saddest. Half the counters were shut. The one or two who were functioning were neither providing tasty food nor were bothered about customer service. They were just serving a need, of thirst and hunger and nothing beyond. The dining areas was hardly populated, with many tables not even having chairs, forget patrons. Those who were having a meal were merely passersby and I couldn’t notice even a few of them with shopping bags.
McDonalds continues to attract crowds, perhaps the brand pull makes all the difference. The play area did have some crowds, but not sustainable to send them to other parts of the mall.
Inox Multiplex with half a dozen screens was barely empty, with 4 new releases this week. That food prices in the canteen area of Inox is a put off is another blog column by itself! Even then, people should come to watch a movie in the weekend? That was also not to be seen.
Despite being in the centre of the city (and hence its name), why is the mall so empty? What went wrong with the Mall which was once the pride of Chennai? A decade back, rental costs in the mall used to hover around Rs. 180-300 per sft. Now there are hardly any takers. Retailers have shunned the mall. Food Outlets, which would anyway attract crowds and make some decent revenues seem to dislike being in the Mall. Whose fault is it anyway? Is it that the customers walked away from the Mall to bigger and better options such as Express Avenue Mall which is about 5 kms away? Or have they gone farther to the likes of Phoenix Market city or Vijaya Forum Mall?
This Mall has huge potential given its location, a stone’s throw from the Marina Beach and easy access from the rest of South Madras. It has enough parking space for shoppers, enough shopping space, cinema, foodcourt, play areas, what not. With a little bit of effort, this Mall can be turned around. Will the authorities get a good consultant and work in the renovation? Time will tell.