Pockets of vintage charm

Valuable spaces

Pockets of vintage charm

Bangalore might be a city that has witnessed a sea of change — the IT boom, development of suburbia and influx of population from other parts of the country stand testimonial to that — but amidst this rapid modernisation, a few select spaces have retained their old-world charm.

They serve as oases in a city that has morphed rapidly from a cantonment known for its mild weather to a bustling and increasingly cosmopolitan urban space. Gangaram’s Book Bureau, the book and stationary store that used to occupy prime real estate on MG Road and has now shifted shop to Church Street, is one such example.

Higginbothams Ltd, the Bangalore outlet of a chain of book shops that date back to the British era, and arguably the oldest in the City, is another — as is Lakeview Milk Bar. But although these establishments have stubbornly retained an atmosphere that predates the City’s IT boom, they don’t necessarily have things easy. Given
scores of well-marketed bookstore chains and snazzy restaurants which have been set up in Bangalore, competition is stiff and it isn’t always easy to convince customers that what’s older is necessarily better.

Because of this, many of these establishments have had to allow for changes in location, pricing and policy.

For instance, unable to cope with the hike in rent rates that the Namma Metro project caused in the area, Gangaram’s Book Bureau shifted its premises from its iconic MG Road outlet to Church Street last year. Lakeview Milk Bar too moved out of MG Road for a brief phase, although it set up shop in the Kannan Building once more later.

“The basic problem,” says Miriam, a software engineer who has lived in Bangalore for two-odd decades, “Is that it’s tough to deal with sky-rocketing rent rates as well as keep your pricing competitive. Many establishments in central parts of the City face this problem — not just the ones on MG Road. Paying rent for a space in a prime location can’t be compensated for by selling cakes or stationary items.”

Personally, she feels that it makes sense for such locations to look for better priced premises. But not everyone agrees with this view. Kumar, an investment banker and avid blogger, rues the fact that iconic spaces in the City are losing their market to newer brands. “Blossoms Book House, on Church Street, is one of my favourite places in Bangalore. The store has a website where one can order books, but I never resort to that. I love spending time in the shop and physically searching through the collection of books there. I always find something interesting to pick up,” he says.
“In my opinion, no snazzy bookstore with air-conditioning and fancy lighting can provide a better experience,” he adds.

In fact, there are many who feel that this is exactly what draws customers to such establishments and allow them to sustain themselves. Achuthan Anil, a management student, points out that such vintage stores have a select but loyal customer base.
 “Higginbothams Ltd, for instance, is one of the oldest bookstores in India. I remember my mother, who is an avid reader, telling me how my father used to get her novels from Higginbothams every time he went to the Chennai outlet. The tradition continues even now — he picks up books for my sister from the different stores,” he says.

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