Neglected by both the swish set and the college crowd, Mehar Chand Market has long been the ugly stepsister surrounded by comely damsels like Delhi's posh localities and destinations.
But this past year something happened. It was as if someone waved a magic wand over Mehar Chand, and what emerged was a Cinderella of a market.
Mehar Chand, home to medicine stores, sweet shops, butchers, tailors, mechanics and tent wallahs, caught the eyes of those who were looking for a respite from the crowded environs and steep rentals of Khan Market. “We have been trying for a long time to get big names to set up shops here,” says A.K. Sakhuja, president of the Mehar Chand Market Association. The traders went to snack houses like Haldiram's who showed no interest, but little did they know that one coffee shop could be the start of a turnaround of their fortunes.
It began with Café Coffee Day a few years ago. A clothing store called Soma followed and then a cheese store came up. Tiny lifestyle stores selling kitschy knick-knacks were next, but it was only last year that this cousin of Khan Market became a destination worth heading for.
A chic French restaurant, Chez Nini, which had the gastronomy circles of Delhi in a tizzy, chose Mehar Chand Market and soon all the pretty people were queuing up here. Today, you can see the artful boards of showrooms advertising everything from boutiques to home stores to restaurants. Masaba Gupta has a store here and Fabindia shifted its entire home furnishing section last year.
“I chose Mehar Chand Market as Khan Market is overcrowded. This is accessible,” Nikhil Anand, who runs Kunafa, a Turkish sweet shop, had told THE WEEK last year. Such is the strength of Mehar Chand's gastronomy delight that you can travel from Turkey to France via Poland, thanks to Bagel's Cafe. Owners of popular restaurants in Delhi's Hauz Khas area come looking for a second spot here.
“I had two reasons to shift here,” says Rakhi Barodia, who moved her boutique from Khan Market to Mehar Chand last year. “The rental here is affordable. Besides, Khan Market has evolved into more of a dining place with people heading there just to hang around.” And is she happy with the move? Most of her clients are old ones who, she says, are glad to come to Mehar Chand. But whether the market is attracting the kind of footfall which made Khan Market popular remains to be seen.
While the rental in Khan Market is about Rs.1,200 per sq.ft, in Mehar Chand it is Rs.400 per sq.ft. “Earlier we used the basements and first floors as our living quarters. Now we lease them out,” says Sakhuja. Sitting in the winter sun, he mentions a number of industrialists who have set up stores here. A beauty salon has just finalised a deal to open shop, and Sakhuja sees it as another sign of the market having arrived. “In the past two years, about 70 showrooms have opened here,” says his friend, who refused to give his name. “People have given out their shops on rent; some have sold them and gone.”
Mehar Chand Market was named after Mehar Chand Khanna, an adviser to former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Like Khan Market, it was set up to give a fresh start to those who had come from Pakistan in 1947. Even today, prosperous and poised as it is, Mehar Chand Market does not have the bustle of Khan Market or the quaint charm of Hauz Khas. But, for those who are tired of the traffic, the endless wait for a table and the jostling around in those two hot spots, Mehar Chand Market is a happy alternative. Now, if only it does not go the way of the other two.