Mumbai’s Crawford Market straddles old and new worlds

Crawford Market is home to many things – old-school bargain hunting in an inflation-hit economy, multi-generational shops and innovative electronic retailing.

Designed by British architect William Emerson, the blend of Norman and Flemish architectural styles makes Crawford Market look like more of a fort than a market. Subhash Sharma for The National
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MUMBAI // Ram and Arvind Morde, two brothers who are both in their 60s, have known the hustle and bustle of Crawford Market for most of their lives.

They run a fruit-trading business, specialising in mangoes, set up by their grandfather 100 years ago in the historic and popular market in south Mumbai.

Crawford Market has dozens upon dozens of stalls. They mainly sell fruits and vegetables, but other goods are also on offer, including a wide range of packaged food products, gifts and cosmetics. It even has an area dedicated to selling pets such as puppies and birds.

The market was built in 1868, when India was under British rule. It was named after Arthur Crawford, who ordered the market’s construction in his role as the first municipal commissioner of Bombay, as Mumbai was known at that time.

“We’ve had some of our customers for more than 50 years,” Ram Morde says.“We’ve seen them grow up.”

Another business in the market, which sells an array of goods including spices, pastas and toiletries across two different stalls, is run by the Hakimi family. Shabbir Hakimi, 22, who works at the market alongside his father and uncle, said that his grandfather started out selling rice in Crawford Market and the family has since expanded the trade.

“Our business is developing as we try to compete with shops in Mumbai,” he says. “We’re taking orders over phone and delivering and we’ve started taking orders on WhatsApp.”

Mr Hakimi explains that they also plan to set up a website so customers can see what they have on offer and their prices. Everything the Hakimis sell in Crawford Market is at a discount of between 5 and 30 per cent on the recommended retail price, he says.

“We have to adjust to the trends and do something different,” Mr Hakimi says.

One shopper, Javeed Isane, 48, an independent stock trader, explains that he travels 15 kilometres to Crawford Market once every 10 days or so to take advantage of its lower prices.

“I find it a bit cheaper,” he says. “Red cabbage is 60 rupees a kilo, for example, and outside it’s 80 rupees.”

Rising prices have been a major issue in India, with soaring vegetable costs being a major driver of food inflation last year. Onion prices, for example, quadrupled in 2013 because of weak crops.

“Vegetable prices have come down,” says Baba Saheb Kumbhar, 42, who has a vegetable stall in the market, which he says brings in a monthly profit of 25,000 rupees.

“The supply is much better. This is the season that the crops come.” He adds that prices could rise once again next month, however.

“Prices fluctuate a lot because of inflation, because of climatic changes and unseasonable rains,” says Arvind Morde.

It is not only the climate that is a source of concern for him. There is uncertainty over who will run their business once both brothers retire. While Arvind Morde’s son, an engineering graduate, has settled in Boston, Ram’s daughter is studying for a master’s degree in Australia, and neither is interested in working in the market.

“Only god knows who will come and take over,” Arvind says.

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