For anyone who grew up in Bengaluru, it’s impossible not to think fondly of the iconic Big Kids Kemp. Back before a mall opened up on every second street, the massive superstore with its iconic mascots dressed as cartoon characters was a mecca for children and families in the city.
But this Saturday will mark the end of an era, as the iconic store that has stood as a major Bengaluru landmark since it opened in 1990 will shut its doors forever.
“My brother had opened Kemp Fort and Big Kids Kemp was mine. He retired a while back and now I have decided to do the same and travel,” Vashi Melwani, the 79-year-old owner of the store, tells TNM.
With the store announcing a clearance sale with 75% discounts on all its merchandise, customers came into the store in droves on its final day.
Big Kids Kemp on its last day. Image Courtesy: NewsKarnataka.com
Vashi says that this is not just a result of the massive discounts, as the store has continued to remain popular till its final day. “No matter how many malls came up, it never affected the store till now,” he says.
Interestingly, Vashi reveals, he was initially very unsure of the decision to open a superstore on MG Road, as was everyone else around him.
“At the time I thought it may be a bad idea. Before Big Kids Kemp, I had a small store – Kids Kemp on KG Road. I had opened it in 1985. Everyone involved had doubts that such a store would run into losses. But I stuck to my decision and moved the store to Trinity Circle in 1990,” Vashi narrates.
From the very first day though, there was little reason to doubt the wisdom of his decision. For a Bengaluru that had only seen neighbourhood shops and small outlets, the sheer size and scale of the spanking new store was a major draw.
“On day one, so many people turned up to catch a glimpse of this huge store. The concept was so new to people in Bangalore (Bengaluru) at that time. On the first weekend after the shop opened, the rush was so huge that people were standing in long queues which went way past Trinity Circle,” Vashi adds.
Even more than the wide range of products on offer, an entirely new experience for Bengalureans, what turned Big Kids Kemp into such a popular landmark were the mascots dressed as cartoon characters. It was unbelievable that children could suddenly reach out and touch their favourite cartoon characters was a nearly revolutionary idea. It turned Big Kids Kemp into a must-visit destination in the city just for its ‘intrigue’ factor.
“Mickey Mouse was the most popular cartoon character when we opened Big Kids Kemp. The idea of mascots was new to Bengaluru. The fact that children could see Mickey Mouse or any other cartoon character and click photographs with them helped in driving sales. Children waving at these mascots from cars, scooters and buses was such a normal thing,” Vashi explains.
And it wasn’t just everyday customers who flocked to the store. It drew enough prestige to even bring in celebrity customers. “Many famous personalities and their children would visit my store to shop. Even the Rajkumar family used to visit our store.”
And while the new sheen on the store may have faded somewhat over the years, Vashi says that it was not at all an easy decision to shut down the store. Indeed, he has gone back and forth on the decision for nearly four years.
“Last month I gave all my employees notice. But just like when I had doubts about opening the store, I did not know if I was doing the right thing. I know I am attached to Kids Kemp, but I decided to get practical and travel,” he says.
However, before he shut shop, Vashi made sure that his decision did not affect any of his employees badly. According to Monty, the General Manager of Big Kids Kemp, all of the employees have been given jobs at Kemp Fort and the Favourite Shop.
“I have been working for Kids Kemp for 20 years now. We all have other jobs to move on to once the store shuts tomorrow. Some of us will be at Kemp Fort, which is now a mall and Favourite Shop. But I will miss this place as it has become a part of my everyday life,” says Monty.