Mumbai's oldest authentic crafts nook to shut down due to Metro construction

Apr 06, 2018, 08:51 IST | Benita Fernando

City's oldest authentic crafts nook, which made ethnic cool, to shutter down at the end of this month after Metro III construction activity causes decreasing customer footfalls

The north-bound side of DN Road, which has been blocked on account of metro construction, thus obstructing the entrance to CAC. Pic/Suresh Karkera
The north-bound side of DN Road, which has been blocked on account of metro construction, thus obstructing the entrance to CAC. Pic/Suresh Karkera

While the Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro III line continues to gobble up the city's green acres, it has now managed to sweep away an institution: the city's oldest crafts centre. Contemporary Arts and Crafts (CAC), located in the Taj Building on DN Road, Fort, is set to down shutters on April 27.

Tunnelling work for the Metro line, among other steadily growing reasons, was the last straw for the 55-year-old store. The Metro's construction work has taken over the north-bound side of DN Road, thus blocking the access route to CAC from Flora Fountain.

Decreasing footfalls
"In the last nine months, ever since work for the Metro began, we have seen a 30-40 per cent drop in customers. Our customers started calling and asking how they will drive to the store as the road has been blocked. It doesn't seem profitable to run the store at the moment, given that the work for the Metro line is going to be on till 2021," says Feroza Mody, co-owner of CAC.

The busiest time for CAC is during the weekdays, with weekends seeing fewer footfalls as businesses and offices are closed in the area then. "With the number of people steadily decreasing month after month, Vina and I decided not to extend the lease any further when it came up for renewal," says Feroza.

First to 'Make in India'
CAC was co-founded in 1962 by Vina Mody, furniture makers Shirish Sankalia and Amrital Mistry, and the Nawabzada of Palanpur, Muzaffar Ali Khan. Vina was born in Nebraska, USA, and came to India to marry architect Piloo Mody, the co-founder of the Swantantra Party, whom she met while studying at Berkeley. The store was originally set up at the old Customs House in Nepean Sea Road, and was the first home store in the city to pay attention to India's multitudinous craft practices. Ethnic chic and 'Make in India' was their USP long before the term came into vogue, and they saw steady patronage.

Shrine to craftsmanship
The store relocated to its present premises on the ground floor of Taj Building in 2012, after Vina and her niece, Feroza bought the brand out. The space was previously occupied by noted bookshop, Taraporevala and Sons. Till today, CAC stands as a shrine dedicated to high-quality craftsmanship and unique designs, surrounded by iron pillars, with a wrought iron spiral staircase in one corner. Here, customers could cherry-pick from textiles, ceramics, and wooden objects d'art, among other artefacts.

Hope online
Despite the imminent closing down of CAC, and no rental costs to be borne further by the owners, the store will continue to survive in its online avatar. Warehousing and other overheads are a still a concern for the owners as they feel that the business needs to be revived first. "But, craft is best understood when you can touch it, feel it. We will have to see how our online space runs," says Feroza.

With no plans at the moment for a brick-and-mortar store in another part of the city, the employees at CAC have been informed of the store shutting down. "We have been around for 55 years now, but we just have to move with the times. We cannot ride out the next five years the way we are currently," says Feroza.

'Will pay for art, not craft'
CAC stocks a range of products through commissions from craftspeople across the country. However, the influx of cheap Chinese knock-offs and the rise of several indie, online kitsch stores has come as strong competition for CAC, says Feroza. "To the untrained eye, it is not easy to discern between an actual craft artefact or a mock piece. Even so, craft forms, unfortunately, do not have a space in the Indian market. People may be willing to pay huge sums for art, but not so for craft. Moreover, in Fort's business district, the tourist population has dipped," she adds.

Also Read: Why Mahim Shopkeepers Are Beating Their Heads Against Mumbai Metro Walls

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