Chennai Journal
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Arrival of the Big Boxes
Well, it was bound to happen. Earlier this month, Reliance Industries announced that it will open up large convenience stores in Hyderabad, which is another large IT and business process outsourcing hub about one hour's flight from Chennai. Reliance, a big conglomerate here, also plans to open a superstore in the western part of the country.

So far, there aren't many large stores in the country, at least not by western standards. Today, I went to a new bookstore in town, Crosswords, which advertises itself as huge at 6,000 square feet. It is a nice store and it is well laid out with lots of browsing cushions and chairs.....but Borders or Kinokuniya (one of, if not the, largest bookstore in the world, in Singapore) it ain't. Most places, even grocery stores, don't get much bigger than this. And of course, the tiny little holes in the wall where you can buy everything from bootleg wine to daily necessities abound. As in Japan, the economy is built on small, several times weekly purchases instead of the once a week marathon where you come home with (as I have accused Marty) your own small warehouse of toilet paper and the like.

With this new foray by Reliance, the mom and pop stores are up in arms, and the foreign superchains are champing at the bit to get their oar in the water, too. So far, the Indian government has resisted Wal-martization (if that's a word), by pretty much blocking foreign direct investment in the retail industry. The few chains that have entered have done so in franchise arrangements, which is permitted under the current laws.

And there's some good news in all this.....according to a couple of reports, Starbucks is finally coming to India. Although I know that to some people, Starbucks has taken on the "big box" image itself, I'm still a fan (especially when compared to South Indian coffee, which can, without warning, come laced with chicory.) I still have fond memories of Starbucks from the old days in Pike Place Market in Seattle, before it expanded nation, and then worldwide. Back in those days, the mermaid lady logo was a little more risque. Now she's globally PC ---and I'm happy that she's about to put on her first sari.

Not much interesting reaction to the news of the U.S. elections here. There was a celebration of the Democrats in India, but I had a conflict and wasn't able to attend. Meanwhile, my Bush countdown clock wound down to 799 days this morning....

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