Chandigarh’s Sector 17 May Have Lost Business But Not Its Charm


A random visit to Sector 17, the proverbial heart of the City Beautiful, … and nostalgia sets in for most of the city residents who have seen the charm of the place through the 1980s to the early 2010.

Good quality shopping and open spaces at Sector 17 were a hot rendezvous at this most sought-after destination, which was synonymous with urbane chic culture. People would catch up at the Sector 17 Plaza sauntering around in the sun in winter, kids would run around eating ice creams, playing with balloons; high-end shoppers would walk in well-maintained shops with elan, there was all the hustle bustle which demonstrated city life.

Chandigarh's Sector 17
Sector 17’s thick green cover makes it look resplendent

People from the neighbouring villages, townships and states would travel and drop at the nearby Sector 17 ISBT to watch movies at Neelam Theatre, which now looks like a heritage manor house, housing some eateries, spa, et al. Similarly, two more favourite places for the moviegoers were Jagat Theatre, which has been converted into a mini mall, and KC Cinema Hall.

“Sector 17 was a one-stop destination for us, especially, on weekends and holidays. The permanent weekly fixture would be film-viewing, eating out, ending up with a heady coffee session at the Indian Coffee House,” says Harish Kapur, a former Professor at Panjab University.

Chandigarh's Sector 17 Marketplace
No other marketplace can boast of such open spaces

Cut to the 2020s … A snappy look around shows things have changed so much over the years. Sector 17 market, which once boomed with a flurry of activities – shopping, hanging out for hours aimlessly, sipping steaming hot coffee at the Indian Coffee House – has lost its sheen, registering a consistent fall in footfalls.

Chandigarh's Sector 17 shoppers' paradise
Once a shoppers’ paradise

The reasons for pushing this shoppers’ paradise, also known as Asia’s biggest marquee mall, which once reverberated with the cacophony of revellers’ streaks of joy, especially on weekends, are many. What began with demonetization, the Covid years brought in more trouble to the efforts of the trading fraternity to regain the lost glory of this Mecca for tourists.

The popularity of Sector 17 went for a toss with the evolution of shopping malls, and multiplexes taking centre stage. With the setting up of the country’s first shopping mall – Ansal Plaza – in Delhi in 1999, the newfound mall culture gradually became a hit with the new generation. The concept made perceptible inroads into metro cities across the country. By the end of 2017, there were more than a whopping 600 shopping malls across the country. Chandigarh and its two satellite townships, Panchkula and Zirakpur, were no exception. First came Fun Republic in Manimajra, then Centra Mall in Industrial Area, Chandigarh; North Country Mall (now called VR Punjab), Paras Downtown Square Mall in Zirakpur and then came the king of all Malls – the Elante Mall which opened in Chandigarh in 2013.

Some think the Sector 17 shops and stores are out-moded compared to those at the malls. The first and second floors are bereft of customer-friendly facilities, especially for the elderly, and physically-challenged. The outlets here lack a range of retail items, and eating joints are sparse where Sector 17 market loses badly to malls where food courts are an added advantage to shoppers.  “The craze among young buyers for online shopping even for their smallest needs has hugely contributed to hit the sales of various merchandise,” says Kapur, which rubbed salt over the wounds of shop owners.

Where there is hope

All’ s not lost yet. One comes across smart carts which ferry people across different parts of Sector 17. The carts were initially meant for senior citizens and children,  but now used free of cost by anybody who wants to avail of its services.

Chandigarh Sector 17 parking woes
Plans afoot to solve parking woes

There are plans of keeping  Sector 17 main market out of bound for vehicles with dedicated parking places on all sides.

The MC has now been toying with the idea of turning the iconic Sector 17 into a ‘Smart Sector’ by converting the wide open space around Neelam Theatre into an urbanised park, throwing up skateboard and pro-biking events. An organic food court has also been planned to attract foodies from various parts of the Tricity, and elsewhere.

Subhash Kataria, president of Traders Association, Sector 17, for 45 long years, says with oodles of optimism, “There is no denying that trading activity has been marginally hit after the Elante Mall came up years ago. The trading activity is all set to bounce back, sooner than later”.

Chandigarh Sector 17
All’s not lost yet, the Chandigarh administration working on getting back its lost glory

“The administration needs to take an urgent call on the issues surrounding the building bylaws and lease holdings hanging fire since 1980,” he adds. Equally important is the menace of stray dogs, parking pangs, loose hanging electricity wires, CCTV cameras lying defunct, overflowing garbage bins, and dim lights that need to be addressed to help give a push to Asia’s biggest market housing as many as 12, 000 outlets.




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