We could never believe the rumors, despite the variety of sources who assured us it was fact: Khan Market is, everyone told us, the most expensive shopping real estate in the world.
When we finally decided to research it, we uncovered a truth that was slightly less grand but no less implausible: Khan Market is actually the 16th most expensive shopping real estate in the world, according to Cushman and Wakefield, with a rent of $280 per square foot in 2007. It’s more expensive than the most expensive shopping districts in Moscow, Beijing, Oslo, and São Paulo, and only 14% less expensive than Orchard Road in Singapore.
Singapore’s Orchard Road is incessantly mobbed, lined by the world’s most modern malls, and filled with luxury and excitement. It’s easy to imagine its revenue driving real estate prices into the sky. As for Khan Market—the Delhi economy works in mysterious ways, true, but it’s hard to imagine Khan Market generating the kind of revenue that puts it on par with Orchard Road, even with its reputation as Delhi’s most cosmopolitan shopping area.
Khan Market is an elongated U-shaped collection of buildings, with storefronts running around the U and an underdeveloped inner alley dividing the middle. Its main entrance is flanked by magazine vendors, an electronics and music store, and a crowded and chaotic bookseller. A steady stream of tourists gape at the inner alley, rich foreign mothers wearing jeans and salwar shirts steer their children towards Chokola, and young men in pink polo shirts with popped collars head towards the sunglasses stores. Many of Khan Market’s tenants—appliance stores, plastics stores, butchers, chemists, stationary stores—are indistinguishable from those in every other market but for marginally inflated prices.
There are a number of clothing boutiques and upscale restaurants in the inner alley, but there are just as many drooping, dust-covered power cables and tourists crowded around open manholes watching men clear sewer blockages by hand. There is a McDonalds and a Subway, a few coffee shops, and a few luxury housewares stores, but Delhi’s Louis Vuittons, Christian Diors, Fendis, and Armanis are all ten miles down the road at the Emporio Mall in Vasant Kunj. There are vegetable sellers and imported grocery stores selling the same stuff found at every other import grocery store, for only slightly more money. Khan Market is crowded on the weekends, but no more so than any other market.
It’s a nice market, but it’s not nearly as nice as one would expect the 16th most expensive real estate in the world to be. It’s not selling particularly high-ticket items or generating unusually high volume—a latte at this Cafe Coffee Day costs the same as a latte in every other Cafe Coffee Day. With the exception of tailors who speak perfect English and design shirts and suits for Western tastes at Western prices, its selection isn’t terribly unique. So how can it be the 16th most expensive real estate in the world?
Khan Market certainly has its reputation working for it—it was, along with INA Market, one of the few places where one could buy imported goods in the decades before liberalization. Combine that with its location near many exclusive neighborhoods with heavy expat presences, Khan Market was probably where the rich and foreign used to spend their leisure time, before the air-conditioned malls began springing up and legalized imports rendered under-the-table cheddar cheese smuggling obsolete.
So did reputation alone land Khan Market on Cushman & Wakefield’s list? Or is it somehow possible that the vegetable sellers and restaurants and butchers, despite the fact that they charge pretty much the same as every other upscale market, really are paying some of the world’s highest rent?