You need an ecosystem in place before all day all night retail can flourish
It has been a month since I returned from Singapore and I am still referring to the notes of my visit to the island country which is all about shopping, entertainment and experiences. Among other things, we took a boat ride over the lake taking photos with iconic structures in the background including the Merlion, and the Marina Bay Sands. I was wondering how would it be to take a similar boat ride on Chennai’s infamous Cooum river which snails its way all through the city. From Chennai Central Railway Station to Egmore station, and Koyambedu Bus stand or elsewhere in the city, one cannot but forget the stench the Cooum generates, much to the chagrin of locals and visitors. However, a century before, things were quite different. Cooum, which commences in the North of Chennai from the Bay of Bengal as backwaters finds its way all through Puducherry only to join back the ocean somewhere there. It used to be an important transportation mechanism those days, what with the Buckingham Canal finding a mention in various historic records of the illustrious 375+ years of Madras city.
So when the Government of Tamil Nadu passed a circular last month giving a 24-hour operational approval for Retail and F&B outlets in the State, I wondered if this would really help the retailers and the city at large. Perhaps not, I fretted. Because no one wants to buy a designer dress from Zara or a traditional silk saree from Nalli Silks at 1 am. Nor would someone want to fill their home or office pantry at 5 am either, even though Chennai is already becoming a bustling city like Bangalore or Mumbai with people in various businesses working across shifts day and night. Lastly, we do not have the oh-so famous night life and pub culture albeit a few night clubs operate all night (I am told so!) without appropriate approvals of course with the best wishes of those in power.
That being the case, how would a government order that allows Retail establishments to operate 24 hours help the ecosystem at large? Wouldn’t being able to operate more hours than usual generate more employment, which in turn will propel a higher consumption back in to the system? After all, consumers need money to spend and Retail Industry employs over 10 million people across India directly and millions of others indirectly. Perhaps not. The eternal optimist in me is not sure if this move will help the Retail Industry at large. Many people say there would be safety concerns for consumers and staff who work at Retail establishments. Late night drink and drive would increase with an already lax policing in Chennai city and retail consumption of products such as gold jewellery or traditional clothing would not see a great impact although Food outlets could be the sole beneficiary.
My concern is beyond all this. For a 24 hour shopping district to function well and also fructify, we need an overall ecosystem which includes the participation of the city at large. I have spent late nights at Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and when I say retail flourishes there, from Mall Outlets to street vendors, it’s because there is much more the city offers than simply shopping & dining. Perhaps starting to clean up Cooum would be a beginning. Opening up art and cinema beyond midnight would support the city administration with higher tax collection, which leads to more security and safety of people. Wishful thinking, you may say. Many wishes have come true. This would too, even as I am quite confident to watch a night show movie only to follow up with some brisk shopping and then a 4 am first day first show of a Thalaivar film. The day is not too far.