Twenty years ago when I lived in Delhi I drove past Meherchand Market without giving it a second look as it was never a destination. It was simply a row of small shops, tailors and mechanics which catered to Lodi Colony residents. Lodi Colony was a run down low-income neighbourhood which housed those working in the nearby posh central Delhi locales of Khan Market, Jorbagh and Golflinks. I was surprised to find Meherchand Market now being widely reported as Delhi’s upcoming retail spaces catering to the high fashion industry and elite. Delhi’s “developing” urban fabric, its ever expanding metro network, numerous flyovers (being built supposedly to ease the traffic), the revamped airport have transformed the city, but all these did not surprise me half as much as what I saw the other day while driving past Meherchand Market. The humble shopping street which had held out for so long has gentrified into a posh upmarket street. Being located close to Khan Market, which attract Asia’s highest retail rents, this was not unexpected. But seeing the transformation with my own eyes made me grab my camera and spend an afternoon exploring.
Meherchand market is a good example of how an open shopping street has “gentrified” because of a number of unique local characteristics. Firstly being very close to Khan Market, there is speculation that the posh restaurants and boutiques are moving here due to very high rental values there. Also, Lodi Colony falls within the zone where planning byelaws from NDMC restrict the height and scale of buildings in central Delhi. Consequently, the existing general stores, car mechanics and tailors which catered to the local residents are being replaced by high fashion boutiques, designer outlets, hairdressers, restaurants more akin to those found in Hauz Khas Village. While Hauz Khas Village’s narrow streets, which were gentrified partly due to its “villagey” character, have become overly saturated and spatially constrained, the advantage of Meherchand Market is its straight “urban” street and the relatively less-crowded and low-key atmosphere with ample parking (as of now). It still has the feeling of a place which is “arriving” rather than a well established market. Relatively lower rental and land values, combined with easy access and a strategic location have contributed to its popularity. Moreover, the whole area has benefited from a revamp because of its proximity to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium which was the focus of Delhi’s commonwealth games five years ago in 2010.
The combination of an older market with new chic shops results in uniquely hybridized character which is still changing. Highly fashionable outlets such as Kunafa, a middle-eastern baklava shop, or the Affinity Saloon are located adjacent to older scooter mechanics or general stores. Consequently there is stark disparity between the class of shoppers to whom the market caters. The nouveau rich and foreign shoppers rub shoulders with the modest customers of the older shops who are still present. Although, one wonders for how much longer, since the pace of development here is rapid and the entire street feels like a construction site with older shops being continuously revamped. It is inevitable that the remaining older shops will sell out due to the enormous pressure from rising rental values. For some, the upmarketization is exciting as there are numerous fashionable retail and eating options along a street which still feels relatively calm and uncluttered. From the perspective of older shopkeepers and local residents, however, the transformation simply means coping with sky-rocketing rents and having to travel further for daily essentials. For now, however, the hybrid identity prevails and makes the street-scape interesting and full of contradictions, which the following photo essay tries to capture.
Barely 100 yards on the street continues but the character reverts back to that of the non gentrified MCD community centre market colonnade which was built to cater for the low-income residents. The reason this part remains run-down is because it is located nearer to the low-income tenements and is furthest from the main access road which runs to Nehru Stadium. Moreover, the character of the colonnades and courtyards, which are currently used by textile dyers and tailors, does not quite offer the same level of flexibility for adaptation.