If you were born in the 90s, chances are, you may have noticed the decline of Punjab Market happen right before your eyes.
Once a vibrant destination for the South Asian community in Vancouver to shop and dine, Little India is no longer the popular attraction it once was.
Located in South Vancouver on Main Street from 48th and 51st Avenue, Punjab Market is full of familiar sights for those that work and live in the neighbourhood from the Sikh Temple on Ross Street to the eyecatching sign declaring All India Sweets Restaurant.
Since a massive influx of Punjabi immigrants settled in the South Main area in the 1970s, the Punjabi Market became a cultural fixture for the South Indian population in Vancouver to purchase fashion and costume fabrics, jewellry and Indian food items.
Similar to Chinatown, growing gentrification has changed the cultural makeup of the area. With its trendy facade, Roots Cafe is an anomaly wedged between storefronts for bright saris and royal jewellers. Owned by an Indo-Canadian couple that can remember when the neighbourhood has seen busier days, Roots Cafe is a case study for local merchants on attracting new customer bases to an area undergoing economic transition.
The lack of diversification of Punjabi businesses also limits the shopping experience where many stores offer impressive stock that revolve around similar categories - there is no reason to spend an afternoon in the area unless you are picking up something that you could easily pick up elsewhere.
What may be the most telling cause for the lack of business growth is that the South Indian market has solidly moved to Surrey. Surrey is a city where Punjabi ranks as the most common mother tongue in the city at 21.3%, according to Statistics Canada in a 2011 census report, and it’s a city that the retailers are following suit.
In 2008, there were plans to revitalize the district with the India Gate project. The Punjab Market Association had been working with the BC government and the Vancouver City Council before the plug was pulled on the project, and, to this day, it remains a mystery why the project ceased to be.
The question about the future of Vancouver’s Little India remains uncertain. One thing is certain, however. If Little India continues to plateau into the next decade without real economic revitalization, it’ll be a cultural loss for Vancouver.
Written by: Irene Lo
Photo: Justin Ruscheinski – JR Media Group