Local storeowners in northeast cater to an important demographic

Above the townhouses, schools and shops of Falconridge, a steel-capped dome gleams in the sunlight. The stunning architecture belongs to Baitun Nur Mosque, an elaborate, ivory-coloured place of worship surrounded by a black metal fence.

A closer look at the fence reveals red, yellow, blue, and green Christmas lights strung around it and two worn hockey nets resting just inside — a perfect illustration of the blending of Canadian and East-Indian cultures in this neighbourhood.

Alisha Kara, whose parents are East Indian immigrants from Africa, explains this area meets the needs of Calgarians just like herself.

“When people come to Canada from overseas it can be a bit of a shock,” Kara said. “They aren’t used to eating the food or wearing the clothing. They may not even speak any English.”Alisha Kara stands outside of Bhatia Cloth House in Falconridge, just one of the many places where authentic East Indian products are available.
Photo by: Roxanne Blackwell

Kara is one of many people in Calgary who frequent Castleridge and Falconridge to shop in an area filled with authentic East Indian jewelry, clothing and food.

Displayed in the front windows of Bhatia Cloth House in Falconridge, are mannequins showing off saris that come in vibrant colours such as bright pinks and deep blues. Each garment is embellished and embroidered with intricate detail, with a handwritten price tag pinned on the front. Inside the store, more elaborate clothing can be found, as well as jewelry and even ceremonial shoes.

For Kara, who resides in south Calgary, the lengthy commute to the shopping centre is worth it just to get her eyebrows done.

“They just understand my needs a bit better,” Kara said of the estheticians at Hollywood Look Hair & Beauty Studio. “They are used to doing brown girls’ eyebrows and they just need to be done a little differently.”

As she strolls into the salon, Kara walks over to a girl with a purple and gold hijab covering her head that is reclining in a chair. When Kara explains that I had never seen “threading” before, the esthetician, Kiran Malik quickly offers a front-row look at the girl about to get her eyebrows shaped.

Malik took a spool from her pocket and unravelled a few feet of white thread from it. She held the strand between her teeth, then twisted and pulled the thread with her hands around the girl’s eyebrows. In just over a minute, the first eyebrow was finished and she stopped to allow the girl to look in the mirror to ensure she approved. As the customer examined her reflection, Malik explained the ancient process of hair removal by threading is “much quicker and cleaner than waxing.”

Kara laughed at my amazement with the procedure, but also said that she isn’t entirely surprised that I had never heard of it.

“There aren’t too many salons that offer it; it’s definitely one of the things that this area offers that you can’t really find anywhere else,” she said.

The collection of shops caters to the community demographics. Falconridge is home to about 3,330 immigrants who make up over 32 per cent of the community’s population.

Kara said she believes that the area originally became a popular area for immigrants because housing is more affordable here. Once the immigrant population began to rise, shops sprang up to meet their needs.

“Sometimes, people who are immigrating will hear that some distant friend of a friend lives in a particular area of a particular city and they will move there even though they don’t really know that person. They are just hopeful that they will find someone they can relate to and talk to who will help them.”
—Alisha Kara

Just down the road from the beauty salon, Kara excitedly stepped into her favourite grocery store, Fruiticana, which imports specialty ethnic items.

She explained that even though grocery stores such as Superstore and Safeway are making an effort to cater to ethnic tastes, there are still many items at stores like Fruiticana that cannot be bought anywhere else.

She wanders through an aisle filled with Bollywood movies and elaborate green, blue and pink statues of different gods and goddesses such as Shiva and Ganesha. But mostly the shelves at Fruiticana are lined with spices and vegetables important to East Indian cuisine.

Kara points out okra, a green pod vegetable that can be spiced, pickled, salted or sugared, and is common in Indian dishes. In another corner, shelves are piled nearly to the roof with sacks of red, green and black lentils – a staple in Indian cooking.

But it’s the spices that give the store its pungent scent. Haldi is a common spice used for curries and provides the orange colour as well as a peppery taste. As Kara continued down the aisle, the smell changes from the sharp scent of the haldi, to the sweet smell of ginger, or as it’s called here, “adrak.”

Kara stopped by a stack of shiny steel pots – some of which are large enough for her to sit in – and explains that the cookware is used for celebrations where large amounts of food need to be prepared.Alisha Kara (center) poses with her parents, brother and future sister in law at a family wedding. For families like Kara’s, areas that cater to specific cultural needs are important.
Photo by: Roxanne Blackwell

The 2006 Calgary census reported that over 48,000 people living in Calgary identified themselves as East Indian and Castleridge alone is home to more than 350 recent immigrants from India. The Castleridge and Falconridge Community Association has adapted to meet residents’ needs by offering immigrant services such as citizenship and language classes.

Because some immigrants do not speak English, several signs directing people to shops are written in Punjabi. Kara pointed out that some bank tellers wear a sticker on their nametags indicating they can speak eastern languages. Kara says this small touch of familiarity can be comforting for immigrants.

“Sometimes, people who are immigrating will hear that some distant friend of a friend lives in a particular area of a particular city and they will move there even though they don’t really know that person,” she said. “They are just hopeful that they will find someone they can relate to and talk to who will help them.”

rblackwell@cjournal.ca