Little India, already struggling before the pandemic, is at a crossroads

Little India, already struggling before the pandemic, is at a crossroads


Seema Choudhary needed eight traditional Indian outfits for her daughter’s dance troupe. A few years ago, she might have driven the roughly 25 miles to Little India from her home in Irvine. This time, she ordered from a supplier more than 8,500 miles away in Gujarat, which offered lower prices and shipped the skirts, scarves and embroidered tops to her door.
Like many Indian Americans in Southern California, Choudhary has cut back on visiting Little India in Artesia, in favor of online shopping and Indian grocery stores closer to home.
She still goes once a month for items like sandalwood incense and mango wood candle holders that she can’t get in Orange County.
But she and many in her 1,500-member OC Indian Women’s group view Little India as a slightly fusty commercial strip that has failed to evolve with their changing needs.
“They have to make it more festive and more welcoming,” said Choudhary, a Montessori preschool chief executive who emigrated from New Delhi in 1997.
Merchants on Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia, which has been a place to buy a sari, snack on crispy, puffy puris and sit down to a vegetarian thali feast since the 1980s, were struggling even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some have adapted, modernizing their offerings and tapping the internet to build a following.
Others have watched their wares gather dust or their tables stay empty as customers like Choudhary shop elsewhere. The Little India Center, a two-story complex that housed henna artists, threaders, photographers and bridal studios, is an empty hulk.

As Indians are returning to markets and restaurants, we must let them know we exist,” he said. “There are great Indian places in San Diego, Riverside and Diamond Bar we’re competing against. We have to promote ourselves.”

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