Finding parking at Phoenix Mills in Mumbai on a Saturday afternoon is as tough as getting a telephone connection once used to be. Demand far exceeds supply, especially since part of the parking area has been cordoned off for concretisation.
But where is the crowd? Mostly, shopping for atta-dal-sabzi in the hypermart - Big Bazaar. Or, hanging out at the eating joints - here too McDonalds and the street-side eateries have the maximum rush. Thoda bahut crowd department stores mein bhi hai.
What's absolutely deserted is the 'Skyzone' housing an array of youth focussed clothing outlets - Killer, Spykar, SF jeans, Wrangler, Weekender. Pepe and Levi's at least had some browsers, the others had 3-4 salespeople twiddling their thumbs behind the ceiling-to-floor glass windows.
Um, so where ARE the youth? I saw a few collegians checking out the junk jewellery at Lifestyle. That's a place any girl could pick up a bauble or two without thinking twice. Quite a neat selection too.
There are probably more young people hanging out at suburuban malls like In Orbit (which gets the call centre crowd).
But even at CentreOne which is about the only 'happening' place in Vashi, the crowd is concentrates on the top floor - which has a really nice food court. Or the ground floor which has the Food Bazaar.
The two floors in between which house shop after shop stocking clothes see mainly window shoppers - except during 'sale' periods. Pantaloons is the only shop in CentreOne which seems to have some steady youth traffic.
This could have something to do with the fact that unlike other stores they rotate their stock very often. The same kapda does not hang there for the entire season - every 10-15 days there is new stuff.
And the 'teen' range UMM/ Bare is very affordable. You can pick up a pretty cool t-shirt for as little as Rs 199. Which is not possible at most 'branded' outlets.
Beyond the 'FamilyMall'
I think, as time goes by, malls catering especially to youth will have to come up.
Right now, outlets with branded clothing are quite identical to each other. You see one, you've seen them all. The same denims, checked shirts for boys, tank tops for girls.
Where's the excitement? Where's the joy of discovering something that's 'just you' - which is what you get (and at a much cheaper price) at streetside shopping on Hill Road/ Sarojini Nagar.
To attract young people we'll need malls which are less standardised and sanitised. Malls like the graffiti-rich Heeren Arcade on Orchard Rd in Singapore or MBK Centre in Bangkok.
Chaotic but interesting places which feature rows and rows of little shops run by young entrepreneurs who 'understand' their cuctomers better. The kind of shops we have in Mumbai - but currently tucked away in tiny garages in Bandra.
And, today's branded clothing players will need to put out a larger range, funkier designs and better prices, if they really want to thrive - not just survive.