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Indian businesses in Tampa enjoy spike in business from Bollywood Oscars

TAMPA

Normally, Prerana's Indian boutique is closed on Tuesdays.

But this week, with celebrities and visitors arriving for the Bollywood Oscars, it opened its doors for shoppers seeking dresses and jewelry for Indian entertainment's biggest event of the year.

"It's been crazy all week,'' said sales associate Alok Trivedi. "I'm running out of clothes.''

The Fowler Avenue store is one of several Indian-owned businesses enjoying a boost from the International Indian Film Academy's four-day extravaganza of song and dance performances, movie screenings and an awards ceremony.

"This whole month has been great,'' Trivedi said, noting that top sellers have been brightly colored saris, lehngas and other Indian outfits with lots of bling. Sales are double those during the same time last year.

Local stores and restaurants have been preparing for weeks for the IIFA events, which culminate Saturday with the awards show at Raymond James Stadium. The show is now in its 15th year, but this is the first time it has been held in the United States.

Raj Bahl bought the Indian restaurant Cilantro in February in anticipation of Bollywood's invasion. He figured the estimated 30,000 visitors would crave Indian food and, even if they were staying with area family members, would want to eat out locally.

So far, he has picked up several catering jobs, including private parties at homes and a 300-person event at a banquet hall in Clearwater. He also is providing boxed meals to entourages of celebrities such as Sridevi, one of Bollywood's biggest actors. Located along 56th Street, Cilantro is one of the few local restaurants to have a mobile clay oven for baking naan.

"We're really excited about IIFA being in Tampa. It's an honor,'' said Bahl, who owns Cilantro with Dareel Gama and Akshar Patel.

While the catering work has doubled his sales, traffic at his restaurant, one of the area's largest Indian eateries, hasn't surged, aside from a few large groups. About 28,000 people of Indian descent live in Hillsborough and its surrounding counties, according to the last U.S. census.

"I was expecting a wait out the door, which I don't have,'' he said. "I highly doubt that all the people coming in are going to eat at home, but I'm still looking for the one-hour wait to happen.''

He was also disappointed that no outside food will be allowed at the stadium for Saturday's awards ceremony. He fears guests will get stuck eating chicken tenders, nachos and pizza. Most Indians don't eat beef.

But they'll be dressed well. Kiran Bahl, whose husband co-owns Cilantro, said business is booming at her Gro Styles boutique from shoppers buying Indian attire for the IIFA events. Not only is her store on Fowler Avenue feeling the Bollywood boost, but so are her locations in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Most shoppers are local, but only half are Indian.

"We have so many people who have no idea what Indian wear even is,'' she said. "We've been opening early and staying open late to accommodate the guests. We double-stocked all the stores.''

Her staff has been spending extra time educating customers about the difference between saris (about 6 yards of fabric wrapped at the waist) and an Anarkali outfit (a long tunic with skinny pants). First and foremost, they remind people not to wear white. In India, that's reserved for someone in mourning.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Indian businesses in Tampa enjoy spike in business from Bollywood Oscars 04/23/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 11:24pm]
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