Delhi: From a barn to a creative shopping street | Latest news Delhi

Amanda Bhandari compares Dhan Mill Compound near Chhatarpur in South Delhi to London’s Covent Garden.

Before you can begin to wonder why, he explains, “I feel like this place has a European feel to it, with its cobblestone streets lined with designer benches, vintage lampposts, and a variety of tastefully decorated cafes and shops. It’s such an eclectic mix of culture, creativity and luxury,” says Ella Bhandari, sitting inside Bombay Club, a cafe she opened on Sunday.

For the uninitiated, Dhan Mill Compound, a former barn and warehouse cluster, has been transformed into the city’s trendy food, fashion, design and lifestyle destination. Its streets are lined with art cafes, home decor outlets, workshops, art galleries, ceramic studios, dance halls and high-end boutiques, whose facades and interiors are as interesting and experimental as the products they sell. .

Interestingly, all of these elegant establishments are housed in redesigned warehouse buildings, which still have metal roofs.

“Dhan Mill is such a vibrant creative community, here we inspire each other and help each other in our creative pursuits,” says Richa Sinha, who runs AGENC Colab, a design studio and co-working space, home to several startups from design. Sinha, who studied photography at New York’s Parsons School of Design, co-founded AGENC with two fellow Parsons students.

In fact, many companies in the Dhan Mill Compound are owned by young creatives who have studied their art in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Take, for example, Atul Jindal, who runs Big Dance Center, a dance studio. Jindal, who studied at Broadway Dance Center in New York, is trying to replicate the model from his alma mater in Delhi.

“And I decided to open (the center) in Dhan Mill because it gave us both the creative atmosphere and the large space that we needed. This former warehouse served our purpose perfectly,” says Jindal, who has also choreographed a number of Bollywood stars, including Amitabh Bachchan, who was recently in his dance studio at Dhan Mill for a photo shoot.

As we speak, a group of 40 students are learning hip-hop, practicing their steps to high-pitched music. The Big Dance Center teaches various forms of dance, including hip hop, jazz, belly dancing, and B-boying.

It’s not uncommon to see Jindal students swinging in the cobbled alleys of the compound, where they get an appreciative audience.

“In fact, street entertainment is an integral part of the Dhan Mill experience; We regularly invite artists here, including musicians and dancers,” says Rishabh Jain, 26, who runs Dhan Mill with his sister Gunjan Jain, 34.

His family, which owned Dhan Mill Compound, was one of the largest grain merchants in the country.

The Jains, originally from Chhattisgarh, moved to Delhi in 1964. In 1974, the family opened rice mills in Mehrauli and in 1978 bought a 4.5-acre plot of land in Chhatarpur and set up a barn, which over the years came to be known as Dhan Mill Compound. In the 1990s, they started a logistics and storage business on the premises.

“In 2010, some real estate agents approached us and asked if we would be interested in renting one of our warehouses to a furniture store. The rent they offered was more than double the going rates. We agreed and Dhan Mill’s new journey began.” says RK Jain, the father of Rishabh and Gunjan, sitting inside his office in a part of the compound that still looks like an industrial estate. “You see, these real estate brokers are some of the most futuristic people I know,” says Jain with a laugh.

The first to move into the complex was In-Living, a furniture store in 2010, then in the following years the famous fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani opened a store and the famous hairstylist and make-up artist Ambika Pillai also opened her studio. Some of these early stores have since moved on. Even as the new stores sprung up, until 2015 the place continued to have an industrial look, with trucks going in and out of the complex. “But I had decided to close our storage business because I felt we made more money by renting out our facilities,” says RK Jain.

He says the complex’s appearance began to change after he handed over the reins to his daughter and son in 2017, and that marked the family’s complete shift from logistics to aesthetics.

“We realized that Dhan Mandi has great potential as an experimental food, lifestyle and design destination, and decided to carefully curate the space,” says Gunjan.

“We often took suggestions from existing brands, and during the second coronavirus lockdown last year, we rebuilt cement streets into cobblestone streets, put up new street signage and introduced street furniture. We wanted a Victorian aesthetic within the Dhan Mill Compound,” he adds.

Ask him about his inspiration for the compound, and Gunjan, who studied finance in Germany, says he was inspired by Bicester Village, a shopping center on the outskirts of Bicester in Oxfordshire, England. The place has more than 160 boutiques and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in England.

The cobblestone streets of Dhan Mill, lined with benches and large potted plants, closely resemble those of Bicester Village.

“I just love the place for its experimental food and non-alcoholic, pet-friendly cafes and restaurants that make it the perfect place for a family outing. My daughter is a painter and she can’t get enough of this place, we ended up visiting almost every week,” says Deepak Arya, a software engineer at Gurugram, who is in the market with his wife and daughter.

Rishabh Jain says that 20 of the 45 outlets at Dhan Mill have sprung up during the past two years of the pandemic, and he receives around 25 requests every month from brands wanting to rent space in the complex. “But we are very particular about who can move in. We did not approve of several brands because we felt they did not fit the aesthetic and spirit of the place, even though they offered rent several times the prevailing rental rates in the complex. . It is only for businesses with an artistic vocation, those that add value to the whole. Currently, we have only one space and more than 50 pending applications from various brands”, adds Rishabh. In fact, rents at Dhan Mill have skyrocketed from $80 per square foot to $900 square feet in the last decade.

The community’s reputation is spreading far and wide. It has become one of the best examples of regeneration of what architects and interior designers call ‘leftover urban spaces’. Last year it appeared in the book ‘Designing the Unfinished: A New Way to Design Leftover Regeneration’.

Edited by Luciano Crespi, a renowned Italian architect and interior designer, the book aims to encourage city managers and planners around the world to experiment with new ways to regenerate out-of-use built heritage.

The success of Dhan Mill encouraged the family to start Dhan Mill 2 on a vacant lot of their property in Chhatarpur. “And this will be inspired by the old town of Ibiza in Spain,” according to Rishabh.

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