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Biz growing; paper trade keen to move out

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The centre of the paper trade at Parry's Anderson Street. Bijoy Ghosh
The centre of the paper trade at Parry's Anderson Street. Bijoy Ghosh

R. Balaji

Chennai, Aug. 14

ANDERSON Street. Bullock carts vie for space with pedestrians, cyclists, two-wheelers and cars. It is no different from any of the other streets in Parry's.

But it shares a speciality along with a handful of others in Parry's such as the Malayaperumal Street, Stringer Street, Umpherson Street and Chinnathambi Street. It is the heart of the paper trade in Chennai.

Paper in every form, for printing and writing, for packaging, and special grades for tissue paper and file boards, paper in rolls or sheets, you name it they have it.

This wide range assures them business through out the year. January to April is the academic season when the demand for paper, notebooks and textbooks peaks. Then, it is the printing season from August to December when paper is needed for calendars and diaries. Apart from these, paper for making account notebooks provides a constant demand.

According to Mr S.K. Verma, former President, The Madras Paper Merchants Association, paper traders are now dispersing across the city to stay closer to their customers. But most wholesalers who have been in the business for long operate out of Parry's. Every paper mill has two or three dealers and most of them are either in Parry's or have started from here.

Traditional strengths in operating out of this area are the proximity to the harbour, the railway station and till a few years ago the long distance bus terminus. Apart from the city market, the traders also cater to the demand in north Tamil Nadu and neighbouring districts in Andhra Pradesh.

But with businesses growing, the bus terminus shifting several km away and traffic increasing it is only out of sheer force of habit that they continue here. The crowd and chaotic traffic discourages customers who now get in touch over the phone. Earlier, when they came down themselves the trade was cash-and-carry but now it is deliver and wait for payment, he said.

Being a Central Business District it continues to attract traders of all kinds. So it is not just the paper trade that is concentrated in the paper market but a motley assortment of shops selling footwear, plastic wares, disposable plastics and other household items. Also it is a semi-residential area. Most buildings include a residence on one floor and a warehouse or office on another, according to Mr Verma.

According to Mr A. Natesan, a committee member in the Madras Paper Merchants' Association, Parry's will always hold an attraction for those who grew up there. His family has been in business in Parry's for over six decades.

But with the businesses expanding and families growing the younger generation wants to move out.

In the early days, before the advent of mobiles and faxes, it made sense to stay close to the harbour and railway station. Also, imports were the major source of supply and paper would be rationed out to the distributors by the importer, he said. But now domestic industry has grown, and with communications and movement easy there is no need to stay in such a cramped area.

Leading paper dealers have shifted out and only about a third who were here originally operate out of Parry's.

Their offices will be on Anderson Street or any one of the others where paper business is concentrated and the godowns in Mannady, further north and close to the harbour, he said.

The association is keen on emulating the Delhi-based traders who have set up a modern business cluster with office and warehouse facility.

"We need basic facilities like car park and free movement of traffic," he said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 15, 2005)
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