COVID-19 pandemic cripples businesses in Little India

By Vanessa Castaneda
April 8, 2021

LITTLE INDIA, CA– Located roughly between 183rd Street and 188th Street on Pioneer Street in Artesia, Little India is known as the largest Indian enclave in Southern California with over 140 Indian businesses that caters to the Indian community.

Visiting Little India is a chance for those in the community to break from the American culture and step into an environment that reminds them of their home. From the delicacies that are offered at the restaurants, grocery stores with recognizable brands from their homeland, clothing stores with traditional attire, or even shops that carry souvenirs and essentials for Indian celebrations, it is all available for them here in Little India.

However, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, numerous stores have closed their doors indefinitely and many visitors are very sad about it.

The Visitors of Little India

Naveeda Routher and her daughter Sabrina Routher are from Irvine, CA who were visiting Little India to enjoy some Indian cuisine from Amballa Sweets and Snacks in the Maya Plaza, when they noticed how many of the shops in the area are no longer there.

“It’s so different,” she said, “We’ve never seen this place completely dead. We came during the COVID times also, a few times to see, and it made us very sad. All the shops were closed, and as you can see some of them are opening up, but It’s not the same”. The Routher ladies expressed how different some businesses are now, such as beauty salons are now selling clothing and jewelry as well as their beauty services.

“It’s so different…we’ve never seen this place completely dead.”

-Naveeda Routher, Visitor of Little India

The Journey to America

This COVID-19 pandemic has been around for a little over a year now and many stores did not survive the battle. But the battle continues for a few remaining Indian business owners, like Balvinder Garcha, the owner of Bollywood Music and Gifts in the Maya Plaza shopping center.

Garcha, who is 57-years-old, made his journey to America in 1981 at just 18-years-old. He has been in the retail business since his childhood in New Delhi, India. At a young age, Garcha would attend school from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and would work at his family’s grocery store until closing time at 9 p.m. Then finally head home to do his homework.

Being the second oldest child of five, Garcha had always had the responsibility to care for his family. At the age of 18, he decided to join his friend in a lifechanging journey to America. He traveled from New Delhi, to Europe, followed by Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico, and finally to California, where he found work in Los Angeles at 7-11, Arco gas stations, and Jack in the Box.

Map of where Garcha has traveled to in his destination to America

The Family Business

In 2001, Garcha became the owner of the Bollywood Music and Gifts store. He works 16 hours a day for seven days a week. Though he strives to get by day-by-day, he is not doing it alone. He works alongside his wife Simran Garcha and his daughter Sukhvinder Garcha, who also run the business.

The Garcha family at work, organizing their inventory in their family store in Artesia, California.

Their store is the perfect place to purchase the essential supplies for large traditional Indian gatherings, such as weddings and holiday celebrations, as well as baby showers and birthday parties.

It is also a convenient spot to buy gift items, jewelry, shoes, and souvenirs for tourists who come and visit Little India and hope to bring a little of their Indian culture back home.

The family has always worked very hard to maintain the success of their store.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the family would promote their business by keeping the community informed on social media platforms and travel around the state of California to set up tents at temples during special occasions.

COVID-19 Pandemic: The Unexpected Visitor

In March of 2020, California governor Gavin Newsom made an order to cancel unnecessary gatherings. This hurt Garcha’s business entirely.

With many shut downs and stay-at-home orders that happened in the beginning of the pandemic, there were not many tourists visiting Little India, so not very many people would stop by their store.

His store may have survived through this pandemic so far, but it hasn’t been easy for him.

The lack of customers a day has been troubling him, because there are days that he would only see about 2 to 3 customers in an entire day.

“My store is a gift store, and in almost one year, I survived, but I had to pay out of my own pocket”.

Balvinder Garcha, Owner of Bollywood Music and Gifts

This global pandemic spread like wildfire. Many business owners were not prepared for such an uncontrollable situation, nor were many prepared to get by over a year later. Garcha was one of the few who managed to stay above water during these financial hardships.

He has worked hard to get to where he is today, and this pandemic has taken him a few steps back.

Indian Immigration History of America

According to Garcha, his home in India at the time was “a very poor country, very crowded and full of corruption.” He wanted a better life for his loved ones and himself.

Like Garcha, many Indian migrants have made the courageous decision to leave their homeland in hopes for a better life here in America.

According to Immigration to the United States, this has been one of the common goals since the early 1900s, when sailors and voyagers of Northern India arrived to the shores of North America to search for employment and better pay.

The timeline of Indian immigrants in the United States recognizes the different points in time of when Indians arrived to America. It also demonstrates the number of immigrants that came to the United States over the years.

Migration Policy Institute states that of 2019, roughly 2.7 million Indian immigrants were living in the United States, making up 6% of the immigrant population in America.

The 2010 Census reported that there were 528,120 Asian Indians living in California, which is about a 214,000 increase from the 314,819 that was reported in the 2000 Census.

That being said, there is a large amount of individuals that would make the efforts to visit Little India to support one another’s family businesses, especially the migrants who have been situated here for many years.

Individuals like Javed Patel from Los Angeles who came to America as a student in 2004 from Bombay, India.

“I come here almost every month, here and there. I just love coming here. It reminds me of the delicacies back home. It’s nice to get to see more of your people who share the same vibe and energy. It’s lovely.”

Javed Patel, Visitor of Little India

Indian migrants have come a long way to strive to succeed in their journey to America. It is unfortunate that many of those family owned businesses resulted to closures due to the unforeseen circumstances of the pandemic.

A Community So Helpful

Though he may be dealing with his own struggles, it does not stop him from being helpful in his community. In the following podcast, Garcha expresses how he goes out into the community and helps those in need of help.

With all the negativity that is going on in the world right now, Garcha also talks about how he helps others regardless of their ethnic background.

This COVID-19 pandemic is tough on everyone, and many are experiencing hardships.

With this in mind, Garcha visits the Gurdwara Singh Sabha Sikh temple in Buena Park, CA and volunteers his time with cleaning, making food and distributing meals to the communities in need.

He believes that everyone should help one another.

When it comes to the other businesses in Little India, is daughter Sukhvinder Garcha explains that everyone in the community treats each other like family.

“With the shops, we’re all pretty close together. If we don’t have anything, we refer them to someone else and say, ‘Oh, you can check over there and see if they might have it.’ We’re like a big family.”

Sukhvinder Garcha, Sales Associate at Bollywood Music and Gifts

Help in Return

This past year of the COVID-19 pandemic was tough on a big amount of individuals, and demonstrated who was really there when needed most.

From the visitors who come and visit the area, to the staff members of the businesses, Little India is surrounded by many of the people in the community who are ready to help each other.

Now it’s time to give a little back. Family businesses like Garcha’s are in need of help to get through this pandemic, but cannot do it alone.

It is important to all the businesses that they get more clientele in their community during these difficult times to avoid further closures.

So take this time to make a fun day out of visiting Little India in Artesia, CA.

Support the local businesses by dining in one of the authentic Indian cuisine restaurants, give the gift of jewelry or clothing from one of the retail stores, visit a beauty salon for a fun henna tattoo, ANY store.

Support the businesses, because a lot of them are family owned.

“God bless you, America. Thank you.”

Balvinder Garcha,
Owner of Bollywood Music and Gifts

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