Gerrard India Bazaar hopes for expansion

[attach]4016[/attach]Soon, Little India may not be so little.

The Gerrard India Bazaar is looking to expand its boundaries to create a more harmonious streetscape for the multitude of retailers that make up the bustling commercial district.

The bazaar is a small business improvement association, commonly known as a BIA, that currently spans a three-block strip of Gerrard Street East from Craven Road to Woodfield Road. If the proposal is adopted the business area would double in size, by expanding to Coxwell Avenue in east and Glenside Avenue in the west.

The Bazaar markets itself as a one-stop shop for South Asian goods and cuisine. While it’s unofficially known around town as Little India, the area is also home to business owners from countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Businesses that are part of the BIA benefit from discounts on utilities, but also help pay for improvement through cost-sharing programs with the city. This helps pay for all local streetscape development projects and promotion of the area through advertising and festivals.

The BIA puts on several festivals each year and that is putting a strain on its resources. Inder Jandoo owns a clothing store within the bazaar and is one of the BIA’s founding members. He says expansion of the BIA is needed.

“If the BIA is bigger there are more funds available so we can do functions on a larger scale,” said Jandoo, owner of Sonu Saree Palace. “When we have only the three blocks that are in the BIA we have limited resources.”

Over the years, the Gerrard India Bazaar has paid for beautification projects such as tree-planting and the installation of globe lights. An official from the City’s BIA office says the expansion of the BIA is an issue of fairness.

“Quite frankly, you look at the three blocks of the BIA and it really has been carrying the load for the entire six block area now since 1981,” said Henry Byres, economic partnership advisor with the BIA office.

“They’re the ones that put on the events and advertise and promote the area.

“They’re the ones that pay for all this, whereas the other blocks outside of the BIA certainly think they’ve gained from all this, but yet they haven’t paid their fair share for all these years.”

Mohammad Saleem owns a business in the proposed expansion area. He is also a spokesperson for the United Gerrard Businessman’s Association, a group made up of mostly Pakistani business owners. While he supports the idea of expanding the BIA he says some have taken issue with its predominantly Indian management.

“We have our differences because there are Pakistani and Indian communities here,” said Saleem, owner of Saleem Retail and Wholesale. “We do not like to work with each other.”

Gerrard India Bazaar manager Subbu Chantaluri also noted the existence of friction between the two groups, but said for the most part, they have coexisted peacefully.

“There might be some simmering tensions and problems,” said Subbu Chantaluri. “Some people might carry this emotional baggage, but here we don’t have those kind of feelings.

“We have Pakistanis, we have Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Indians working together, living together and doing business here.”

A vote to determine whether the BIA will be expanded is scheduled sometime in the fall. Saleem said he is hopeful.

“Let’s leave our differences on the side and work together to bring more customers here and bring more prosperity here and make this area nicer, better and safer.”