Evan Duggan | March 24, 2015 | The Vancouver Sun
Seven years ago, Baljit Grewal and her father Sukhdev Saini relocated their family’s wedding services shop from Vancouver to Surrey. They made the move among a rising wave of Indo-Canadian business owners who, today, continue to move to a section of Newton from Vancouver’s Main Street — the region’s now lagging hub of Indian culture and commerce.
“We never regretted it because parking was the main issue there on Main,” Grewal said in an interview at their shop in the Payal Business Centre on 128th Street in Newton. “Parking here is not a problem, and secondly, it saves us a lot of commute time. Also, the prices that we were paying in rent on Main Street kept increasing.”
Business at the Bride & Groom Shop has been booming, offsetting the additional strata fees and property tax costs of ownership, Grewal said. They even expanded into the neighbouring unit at Payal Centre two years after buying their initial space for their 30-year-old business.
It’s small, family-run businesses like Grewal’s that Surrey has been trying to attract in recent years as part of a plan to reshape this section of Newton into a hub for South Asian services, culture and commerce.
Over the last couple of years, little has visibly changed in Surrey’s so-called Little India, a section of Newton with a mix of light industrial and commercial businesses set around the intersection of 128th Street and 80th Avenue.
The York Centre and Punjab Cloth House continue to anchor 80th Avenue while properties along the busy 128th Street are a mix of light-industrial buildings with a few mechanic shops and small retail stores. The Payal Centre remains the core of the commercial area. It’s a mazelike strip mall with a vast assortment of family-run jewellers, bridal stores, hair salons, clothing shops and other boutique retail.
But now a major development on the corner of 128th Street and 80th Avenue is set to break ground, providing what city officials characterize as the major next step in bringing Little India to life.
Little India Plaza will comprise a mix of services and retail targeted at South Asian residents and visitors. The development by Wales McLelland Construction and Northwest Development is set on a triangular lot and will have five buildings.
The project’s website states that the shopping centre will open by the end of this year. Currently, the fenced-in lot remains empty as the development team waits for building permits. Several large piles of gravel and a couple pieces of heavy machinery are visible from the sidewalk.
Grewal said the Payal Centre development in Newton brought in a lot of established vendors from Vancouver over the last decade. “Most of the well-known businesses have moved here,” she said.
She also welcomes the next step that Little India Plaza will provide. “Competition is always good for business as long as people are not losing money,” she said. “Sometimes people get aggressive and they start cutting each other off. That’s not a good idea. We never do that.”
She said when they were on Main Street, many visitors from India, the U.S. and other parts of B.C. and Canada came to the area looking for specific South Asian products and services. “The same thing is happening here now,” she said. “They come from all over.”
While they welcome more Indian-centric developments, the area also needs more typical services and shops, Grewal said. “There’s a need for a bank and for a coffee shop, and other fast food.”
Surrey City Councillor Tom Gill says the interest in Little India Plaza has been strong and the Little India concept is taking shape.
“We’re at an all time record in terms of what that particular development is selling out for,” he said. “They’re hitting record highs in terms of the commercial space up there that they’re looking to sell.”
He said Little India Plaza would be the first of other similar developments located in and around the area.
“I think that entire 128th block is recognized in Surrey and outside of Surrey as a destination,” Gill said last week. “Our push now is to ensure that 128th is a vibrant area that is going to permit many people coming in from out of province and out of country, and this will be one those tourist destinations for people to come eat or shop.”
Gill said the area was originally set aside for industrial use, but the natural evolution of the area has taken planning in a different direction. “Most of the stuff that is going up and has been very successful,” he said, noting that most of the shops are small, family-run “boutique” businesses that focus on unique brands and services.
“We understood that there was an opportunity there to embrace,” he said.
Little has changed in the area since 2013, when the Little India concept started to get attention, said Surrey planning manager Nicholas Lai.
“That’s because only one application has been approved,” he said in an interview last week. “That’s for Little India Plaza.”
Little India Plaza is a visible and crucial component to building out the Little India concept. “It’s a very prominent corner,” he said, explaining that the lot was re-zoned from industrial to mixed employment.
He said another re-zoning development proposal located just up the street from the Little India Plaza site and Payal Centre is being considered by the city. He said the project would be roughly four times the size of Little India Plaza. “They are under review. They haven’t got approval yet,” he noted.
For more information about the Little India Plaza, please click here.
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