Mumbai, known for long as the city that never sleeps, is now that in the literal sense too. One of the first decisions that Aaditya Thackeray, the new state cabinet minister of tourism and environment, took to promote tourism, generate employment and revenue was a pilot project that allows select malls and eateries to stay open all day and night. With the experiment on for over a week now, the reaction of citizens and shop owners has been mixed.
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The criteria to stay open includes commercial establishments in non-residential areas, gated communities with CCTV surveillance, those with parking facilities, security personnel and noise barriers. The establishments are expected to regulate themselves in terms of ensuring nearby residents and others are not disturbed, and stop serving liquor after 1:30 am. Owners of shops/restaurants must also ensure their staff does not work more than nine hours a day in three shifts. Security of staff, especially women employees, must be provided with transportation after 9:30 pm. Safety, in particular, has been emphasised by the young tourism minister.
Malls, shops and restaurant who wish to stay open need to inform the ward office of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Food trucks are permitted in Nariman Point near NCPA and the Bandra-Kurla Complex lanes. Malls that have signed on to try out this experiment include Phoenix mall in Lower Parel, Atria in Worli, Phoenix Marketcity in Kurla, R City in Ghatkopar, Growel’s 101 in Kandivili, Infiniti in Malad and Andheri, Star Mall in Dadar, Fun Republic in Andheri along with several restaurants in Kamala Mills and Kala Ghoda.
These malls have intimated the BMC and they are trying to make it work by encouraging their stores and brand owners to cooperate. Unfortunately, the one major glitch is unavailability of public transport at night time. Around 2:25 am, the Phoenix Marketcity mall in Kurla, which this writer personally visited, appeared clean, pleasant with aromatic fragrance, peaceful and silent, with air conditioning and electricity fully on. But only some six to eight shops were open at time, with only a few customers. Some shops were open till 5 am.
Sharing his experience, Ganesh Malvankar, Assistant manager of Forest Essentials located on the ground floor of Phoenix Marketcity in Kurla said they stayed open till 5 am on Friday, January 31st. “I don’t think it’s working, we had no customers last night,” said Malvankar. “We got the last four to five walk-ins around 2 am, I guess they must have come from the last show. I think this pilot project is going to take time, only 7-8 shops that were open.” The other brand that stayed open till 5 am the first weekend was ALDO, that sells shoes and accessories, with much the same result. Most of the other brands/shops were closed with managements saying they had staff for only two shifts. And the popular CR2 mall in Nariman Point is yet to come on board.
Lack of public transport during late hours is a problem for potential customers. BEST buses do not operate after midnight and the last train from Churchgate is at 1:00 am with the first train starting at 4:15 am. Metros and monorail do not operate between midnight to 5 am. With most Mumbaikars dependant on public transport, staying out late is impractical.
“I am an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ person because of my office routine,” said Abdullah Safi, a software engineer with an IT firm, who lives in South Mumbai and commutes by train to his office in Goregaon, about 28 kms away. “I have to wake up early to reach my office on time so this 24X7 Mumbai doesn’t really benefit me in any way. Also, there is no public transport facility at night, so this is mainly for people living a lavish life.”
Atria mall in Worli has advertised its 24-hour opening with a huge banner at its entrance, but is open all night only on Fridays and Saturdays, according to the Mall’s security manger Ramesh Verma. “We have 10 restaurants that stay open all night and the Decathlon shop. On other weekdays we shut by 1:30 am as there are no customers,” said Verma. When customers came to the Mall at 1.06 am on Tuesday, February 4th, they were told by the security guard that everything was shut and that they were not allowed to take pictures of the brightly lit but empty mall.
Phoenix Market City Mall in Kurla too stays open 24×7 only on Friday and Saturdays. Yamin Shaikh, security in charge at entrance number two of the mall was however enthusiastic about the move. “I am very happy with the night duty and I like this 24×7 move,” said Shaikh. “We are provided with bouncers and special police security. I was on this entrance last weekend night and we had a good number of footfalls”. Floor manager Deepak Rai estimates late night footfalls at about 10 percent of the day crowd.
Reactions of customers wanting to experience this 24×7 experiment too was mixed. “It was my birthday and I was looking to celebrate it here with Mumbai 24×7,” said Prerna Mittal who had come to Phoenix mall and Palladium in Lower Parel, with her husband on February 4 at around 12.30 am. “I roamed around for an hour checking every restaurant here, and all said sorry madam, it’s closed”. One upmarket eatery manager at Palladium said, “We are open till 4:00 am on Friday-Saturday, but after 1:30 am we serve only food. Even on the night of December 31st, people leave by 3 am. People are not habituated to this and there is no public transport available, so they have to leave early to catch the last train. I think this pilot project will take two to three months to catch on.”
The convenience of online ordering also is a dampener on this experiment. “Mumbai 24 hrs is a good try but I prefer using online delivery apps as dining out in malls at night is expensive for students,” said Hadi Hyder, an engineering college student, residing in Central Mumbai. As it is, many restaurants in Mumbai only offer take way and online ordering as they have no sitting space. “We are open only for order on delivery at this hour,” said a staffer of the McDonald’s outlet located near BKC at 1.30 am. “We haven’t received any mail yet from the head office regarding staying open at night. We are only taking our usual night-time online orders.”
“This pilot project can work incorporating 3A’s: affordable, acceptable and accessible,” said Dr Aamir Khan, a Ph.D. in business economics. “People are now used to lucrative offers by the e-commerce sector. One might not get similar deals in mall restaurants. So costs needs to be affordable. Also, malls need to create a perception that targets citizens with special night time offers. This will take some time. But the most important is accessibility and public transport is needed to make it accessible to all and not just to the upper income people.”
Most however, are hopeful that this pilot project will work with time and will become a new part of the Mumbaikars’ life.