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  • Writer's picturePalak Goyal

History, Heritage & Retail: Thriving Together

On the occasion of World Heritage Day (April 18th)Chanda P Kumar, Associate Director- Marketing & Communications, Strategy – FRDCand Sanjay Agarwal, Co-Founder & MD, FRDC, look at how retail and heritage can share a beautifully symbiotic relationship that not only preserves the country’s aesthetic heritage, but also creates distinctive brand experience in retail. 

Ask any avid shopper who travels often to international destinations, and they will surely mention London’s Bond & Regent Street, 5th Avenue in New York or Milan’s Via Monte Napoleone. All these high streets come with rich history that have moulded these places into ‘must-visit’ and occupied by most sought after brands.

Image: Regent Street

All major Indian cities too have had traditional thriving markets and shopping precincts that are set amidst heritage structures or in the vicinity of historic landmarks. Most of these marketplaces have been the ‘city centre’ around which the city grew. Think the bustling Johri Bazaar in Jaipur, a labyrinth of stores set amidst the historic walled city, or the colonial showpiece of Connaught Place, New Delhi that was originally planned as a central plaza along the European Renaissance style. 

Another noteworthy location is Kala Ghoda – Fort precinct, which was once a British Colonial administration hub, now transformed to Mumbai’s burgeoning hub of high-street and luxury labels.

Image: Sabyasachi, Mumbai; Source: Architectural digest

Even today these are prime shopping high streets of India. Even after 75 years of independence, we have not been able to create mega high streets that can rival these iconic locations that have a character that is unique enough to arouse curiosity and draw walk-ins. 

With the influx of new Indian & international retail brands, architectural design in India was in a mad rush to ape design planning & aesthetics of the western world, from hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes, offices to homes and more so in branded retail environments. Soon there were a flood of stores and malls that reflected the ‘me too’ homogenised look with only a few design & branding elements that differentiated one from the other. Eventually, there was a realisation among a few that we could do wonders by bringing in the best of our heritage, culture and craftsmanship into the folds of modern retail design. Noteworthy designers started weaving India's heritage stories by readapting the wonderful architecture of heritage buildings into luxurious flagship stores bringing unique store experiences to customers. 

Why should retail embrace heritage buildings?

Our heritage carries historical value, cultural significance & architectural importance. When we visit these places, we start engaging with the past and this evokes certain emotions within us. And emotions impact how customers shop.

For long, historical buildings have been beautifully re-adapted and re-used by leading hospitality players. Many grand palaces and forts became iconic places to visit & luxury stays for tourists, and in the process also becoming integral to ‘Incredible India’ campaign. The heritage charm & its attraction was soon lapped up

by brands and retailers to create certain flagship concept stores that were iconic to the brand and connected with the local community and culture. 

Myths & Facts

Brand owners/Retailers are likely to have plenty of queries when it comes to dealing with Heritage buildings. Here are a few myths & facts to help them along the way:

Myths 1: Cost of Re-storing/ Re-purposing heritage structure is very high and not sustainable for retail store.

Fact: It does come with certain incremental cost, but in a very short time this can be offset by word of mouth and PR it generates on its own. One doesn’t need to spend heavily on advertising. It creates an additional pull of your target audience. 

Myth 2: It incurs very high maintenance costs regularly.

Fact: This is not the case if planning and design intervention is handled in an appropriate manner by experienced professionals with subject matter expertise.

Myth 3: Heritage structures come with a lot of restrictions & compliances from various authorities & municipal bodies.

Fact: Yes, depending upon Grade of Heritage Building (refer respective city planning guide/Heritage commission’s guidelines), there are certain Do’s & Dont’s. This must be seen from the perspective that we are protecting and conserving something of great significance and historical importance in order to cherish it for next few generations. Hence some sacrifice should not be a hindrance.

Myth 4: It comes with very limited scope for design intervention. 

Fact: One needs a very experienced and a researched based approach for design intervention in these buildings and/or elements. Once the building use and its era and architectural character is well understood, there are numerous opportunities around design interventions.

To understand more about heritage structures in India, guidelines, conservation and more, do visit INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) for more details.

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