Vancouver’s Punjabi Market has been a touchstone in the South Asian community for more than five decades, and businesses say this summer’s Murals in the Market collaboration is giving them a welcome boost.
South Main Street between 49th and 51th avenues has been refreshed by public art, and people are taking notice.
The oldest Punjabi market in North America had been showing signs of decay, such as graffiti tags, before a group of artists went to work in May.
“It has definitely lost the charm, I would say. It used to attract so much back in the days,” said artist Guntaj Deep Singh. “And this will help so much.”
To beautify the area and support local business, Singh and four other artists — Diamond Point, Minahil Bukhari, Mustaali Raj, and Sandeep Johal — painted four murals in a partnership with the Vancouver Mural Festival and the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective.
“I put my life here — 40 years in one location,” said Raj Jain, owner of Sadhna Saree House. “I want to see this market grow more.”
Jain is one of the original merchants in the ethnic enclave that saw its first shop open in May 1970 — and a survivor of its former glory days.
At its peak, the city’s Punjabi Market was home to more than 300 shops, and a hub for the province’s Punjabi community.
In 1993, it became home to the world’s first Punjabi street signs outside of Asia.
“I feel so good about what this young crowd (is) doing,” said Jain of the mural artists.
“It gives a good name to the Punjabi community, Punjabi Market … and makes it more busy — like what we used to do.”
“There was a time that this place was the place to be,” remembers Madan Dhingra.
The Mona Cloth House owner sees the murals as a sign of recovery, and has already agreed to be a sponsor in 2022.
“They are beautiful, I love them.”
The murals are seen as one piece of the puzzle in a long-term plan supported by the city to draw people back to a neighbourhood that has 51 years of history.
“It’s going to definitely boost the economy,” said Steven Sadurah of Royal Jewellers, which has a mural at the back. “I think it’s going to work.”
Like other business districts, the Punjabi Market was not immune to COVID-19.
“We don’t have any tourists coming,” said Dhingra.
But since the murals were completed, some merchants have noticed an increase in foot traffic and people taking self-guided tours in the area.
The Himalaya Restaurant has a mural on one side, and its owners said some of their neighbours are envious of the artwork, which had been viewed with skepticism initially.
“At first it was just iffy, they didn’t know if it was going to work or what it was going to look like,” restaurateur Manjit Pabla told Global News.
“So since that, everybody is saying, ‘Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t I get it?'”
Dhingra, who said at least 50 per cent of his cloth business clients are from outside the Punjabi community, is confident more people will start to take a second look at the neighbourhood.
“I think we have seen the worst, and it’s getting better for sure.”