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Usually any location that goes by the name ‘daaru mall’ will be off limits for women, especially in Delhi. But Star City Mall in East Delhi, right next to DLF The Galleria, is being discovered by more and more women, thanks to one liquor store that stands out from its competitors.
Glass walls, fancy interiors and a comfortable-looking sofa aside, there is a large pink strip on the outside that reads “Exclusive section only for ladies”. Yes, this is a different take on a ‘theka’ (as a liquor store in Delhi is known), of which there are at least a dozen spread over these two malls in Mayur Vihar.
On the ground floor of the Star City mall, next to Pizza Hut, it’s unmissable as one enters the mall. Opened in October this year, the store is slowly being noticed by women who are looking to buy alcohol without being groped, sexually intimidated, shoved around or be stared at by men.
“Girls can be intimidated at most liquor stores because guys try to letch or just look at you in a weird way,” says a 29-year-old media executive who heard about the shop from a friend a month ago and is now a frequent visitor, preferring not to be named. “I do prefer going to (the ladies-only store) because it’s not crowded at all and you can look around.” Though men are not allowed in the women’s-only section, they can head to an adjoining section of the same shop, which is open for all.
Despite being marketed as women-only, couples make up the bulk of its customer base. Store manager Umesh Chandra Saxena says that’s because “not a lot of people know about the concept”.
Enhancing its women-friendly image are female security guards and a 28-year-old sales representative Beena Sharma, who feels more comfortable knowing she only has to interact with women. “Lots of women come here looking for vodka, wine and champagne. Some buy whiskey as well. Sometimes if they come with male companions they buy beer too. But girls generally prefer tequila,” she says, adding “tequila shot” with a wide grin on her face.
Sales have so far been mediocre, with just 10-15 transactions a day. But store owner Rohit Arora believes it is just a matter of four-six months before things pick up. “More and more people are getting to know about it and word is spreading about the presence of such a shop,” says the 36-year-old.
The store segments are also a boon since it allows buyers the luxury of space and time to browse through the selection at their own pace. Which is not an opportunity other stores offer. Take the one just across the corridor, for instance. The liquor shop is found teeming with people at most times, and it’s difficult for anyone — let alone women — to leisurely browse through the selection. Men elbow, shove and swear, throwing each other over in a desperate attempt to buy the cheapest bottle of booze available. It’s always worse for those who don’t already know what they want.
What the women-only store lacks, however, are pocket-friendly varieties of liquor. “They seem to have a nice collection but I don’t see cheaper brands like Madeira. So, it seems to be catering to women who have money,” says Shipra, a Delhi University professor.
The scotch-whiskey selection at the store includes Vat 69, Jack Daniels, Glenfiddich, Legend of Kremlin, Grant’s, Teacher’s, Jameson and Glenlivet; liqueurs include Marie Brizard, Zappa, Grand Orange; beers include Murphy’s, Leffe, London’s Pride, Amstel Light; and wines include Folonhari, Carpineto Dogajolo, Antares, Moet & Chandon, Valdivieso, Babich, Claar Cellars and Alexis Lichine.
Not all women, however, think gender-neutral booze shops are a hassle. For 20-year-old student Shefali, what really matters is the crowd. “See there are men right outside this store as well. And the walls are made of glass, so it’s not like they’re not seeing you. I don’t think it (being women-only) makes much of a difference,” she says, stressing that she will just go to any liquor store that is closer with “decent men”.
Shefali’s point is valid, given that women have been buying liquor with ease from stores in malls like DLF Promenade and liquor boutiques in Defence Colony, Saket, Press Enclave, Gurgaon, etc. It’s interesting to note that such stores are more prominent in south Delhi.
Meanwhile, Arora, who claims this store is the first of its kind in India, is gearing to set up his next such store in west Delhi. Arora seems to have hit upon a trend that may just work out in his favour. Until regular liquor stores create an environment where women do not feel physically threatened or intimidated, shops such as Arora’s look poised to thrive.