Little India opens in Surrey to serve booming South Asian population

October 6, 2016

By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun|

Surrey’s Little India is taking shape, but those wanting to buy a piece of unique jewelry or Indian pyjamas, eat some butter chicken or bank at the newest Khalsa Credit Union branch will likely have to wait until Christmas for the shops to open.

Right now, all that exists of the $15-million “destination” precinct in the heart of Newton, at 128th Street and 80th Avenue, are a series of colourful shells — yellow, baby blue, fuchsia, orange — with a promise they will transform into a one-stop shop for services ranging from doctor’s and dentist offices to fabric stores, grocery and insurance shops, and chai tea-sellers.

“This is like a hub,” said local developer Jay Minhas, who was on hand for an opening celebration Wednesday. “When people walk in they have a variety of things. They can get anything to do with Indian culture, Indian food, Indian lifestyle … everyone wants to move south, so everything is moving this way.

“The majority of South Asians are in Surrey and it’s growing at a fast pace. The new immigrants can no longer afford Vancouver or Richmond.”

A fact sheet from the City of Surrey in 2011 suggests 37.6 per cent of Surrey’s immigrant population was born in India, compared with 30.8 per cent in 2001.

The shopping centre, which sits on four acres and is dubbed Little India, has been in the works since 2013 when the developer proposed having a “cultural precinct” at 80th Avenue and 128th Street. Surrey officials at the time said it would allow Surrey to mirror other big cities, such as Vancouver and San Francisco, which have a Chinatown, and Toronto a Greektown.

It also allowed the city to start cashing in on the massive growth in Newton, where hundreds of quasi-commercial South Asian businesses are scattered around the area, even though the area is zoned industrial. Most are allowed because they include a mix of warehouse or distribution centres with banquet halls or small retail, selling Indian staples like jewelry, saris and sweets. Business hubs York Centre and Payal Centre, as well as the Punjab Cloth House, act as anchors.

Surrey Coun. Tom Gill said that while the area already has a great mix of nearby vendors, the new shopping precinct is expected to “bring the bar up.” A previous report to the city had suggested most businesses around the proposed Little India site pay significantly less in property taxes because they sit on industrial-zoned land and don’t have to pay higher costs for their commercial enterprises.

“We’ve got an opportunity here in this community for high-end businesses and offices we did not have at one time,” Gill said. “This is the only purpose-built facility for this particular use. It’s expected to be very successful.”

Gurdev (Dave) Sandhu, president of Northwest Development, which developed the precinct, said about 95 per cent of the property has already been sold, and is expected to host 60 tenants. The move is set to cater to Surrey’s growing Indo-Canadian population, as well as to cash in on the increasing number of South Asian businesses flocking from Vancouver’s Main Street and Scott Road.

Jerry Dadwan of Jerry’s Fashions and Fabrics moved to Surrey five months ago after 22 years on Main Street. He has set up his business next door at the Payal Centre, but said he welcomes the new precinct because it will offer more services to the growing South Asian population. “On Main Street there is no business,” he said. “Surrey is busier, there are more people. It’s good.”

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said Wednesday that Newton is fast becoming known as “high couture for fashion” among South Asians, who are coming here from Los Angeles and New York to shop for wedding dresses. “Great things are in store for this area,” she said.

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