If you drove down Lahore’s Walton Road in 2005, your nose would have picked up a certain odor which you knew was a by-product of a paper and pulp mill in the area. The road itself used to be nothing more than a link to Defence Housing Authority – full of potholes and traffic. Today, if you drive down the same road, your commute is smooth and hassle-free. The road has been widened to accommodate more vehicles and a flyover has been constructed to cut the traffic for faster travel. The smell from the paper and pulp mill has disappeared because the mill was moved to Kasur and in its place the Packages Group has constructed a gigantic mall which will open to public on April 20.
The Friday Times had an opportunity to visit Packages Mall before it opened and found the abundant space allocated for the building to be its most remarkable feature. If one didn’t know it was a mall, one could be forgiven for thinking one had entered an international airport.
British architect Marcus Wilkins (of the Emporium Mall fame) has designed Packages Mall whose total area stretches over 1.2 million square feet. There is room for 2,500 cars and 4,000 motorbikes. There are four entrances to the mall, two of which will be opened on April 20 as part of its official launch.
“We envisioned this mall to be like a functional downtown,” says Saadia Bukhari, who is heading the marketing department. “There is a great shortage of large, indoor retail and leisure spaces in the city. We want to fill this gap by providing people with a complete shopping experience. Packages Mall is centrally located, easily accessible and has great parking. We believe in equal dignity for all and people from all income groups are welcome to visit this place.”
Bukhari says that the idea of the mall was conceived in 2005 when Syed Babar Ali, chairman of the Packages Group, spotted potential for commercial real estate. Bukhari describes Babar Ali, who founded Packages Group in 1965, as a forward-thinking man.
“Babar Ali has always wanted to build economic landmarks which develop an industry. Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) is an example of this. LUMS has become a global brand for education,” she says. “It is Mr Ali’s visionary thinking that has made his business portfolio iso diverse and so strong.”
Bukhari says that Packages Mall was planned as a wholesome experience for Pakistani shoppers. “We want this place to be a space for recreation. Shoppers in Lahore are used to open markets like Liberty Market, Barkat Market, Icchra, etc where they have to move between stores and stalls. This isn’t a very convenient shopping experience. It can be exhausting for women to move from one shop to another with their children who often don’t enjoy the activity since they think it doesn’t concern them. At Packages Mall, there is a dedicated area for children where they can have a good time in a safe environment while their mothers take their time shopping.”
There will be several banks at the mall, which will stay open from 10am to 11pm. “One bank – I can’t say which just yet – will stay open till 12 am,” Bukhari says.
The mall was conceived in 2005 and construction began in 2014. “When I first came to the construction site, there wasn’t much to see and it wasn’t very inspiring,” Bukhari says. “But I have seen this building being constructed in front of my eyes and I could not believe how quickly and safely it was built. There were no injuries or accidents during the construction and it came together quite smoothly.”
Bukhari also points out the attention to detail that went into the construction of the mall. “We had a team of international experts looking into various aspects of the building. We called in people from Italy, Turkey, Russia and Portugal and their expertise contributed to this building in the most beautiful way.”
An example of this is the time and effort it took for the selection of tiles. “We got various samples of tiles, poured coffee on them and waited 24 hours before we cleaned them. The sample which was the easiest to clean was finally used in the construction.”
Bukhari also points to the various decorative installations at the mall. “We wanted to give people easy cues to describe where they were in the mall. For example, if you are in the parking lot and can’t find your friends, you could say you are standing next to the pink pillars. Anyone in the vicinity would instantly understand where you are.”
Packages Mall has also ensured a healthy work environment for employees. “We have a strict sexual harassment policy. Those found harassing others will be banned from the mall if they do not desist after the first warning.”
Showers and locker rooms have been installed for workers at the mall. “Those who will travel long distances to come to work will have a place to freshen up before they can begin their day.”
Bukhari is excited – not just for Packages Mall but also for the retail market in the country. She believes grand malls enhance the brand value of businesses. When asked how she would differentiate between Packages Mall and Emporium, she said, “We don’t need the differentiation right now. Emporium Mall is serving a completely different part of the city. We will be targeting residents of DHA, Model Town and other housing schemes closer to our catchment area. We would have worried about differentiation if Emporium Mall was next door and was affecting our customer base.”
Packages Mall will open on April 20 at 10 am. The first 500 customers will receive gifts bags and vouchers.