Sad state of India’s oldest shopping mall- Spencer Plaza Chennai - eNidhi India Travel Blog

Sad state of India’s oldest shopping mall- Spencer Plaza Chennai

When I first arrived in Chennai in the winter of 2005 along with my batch-mates at Satyam Computers, the Rajiv Gandhi Salai was still under construction. Spencer’s Plaza was the most popular mall in town. In fact Spencer’s Plaza is India’s oldest mall, first commissioned some 154 years ago, sometime in 1864 [Detailed history in Wikipedia]. Spencer’s Plaza held its position as city’s most prominent landmark till late 2008-2010, when IT boom resulted in more malls all around the city.

Past 8-10 years, Spencer’s Plaza lost its sheen among the city’s spending youngsters as more modern and luxurious malls have managed to grab all the footfalls. I revisited Spencer’s Plaza last Sunday afternoon and sad to report the once happening mall is now looking like a ghost town. There are a few shops still operational but the customers are too few and the mood is too dull.

This post shares some photos and my finding.
Closed shutters- on a rough guess, I noticed around two third of the shops were closed.

Another one third remained open- mostly petty shops selling bags, mobile accessories, cloths etc.

Few shops offering 50 to 60% off in a bid to attract customers. I am guessing these shops are continuing in spencer’s for now, as they can’t afford high rents in new modern malls.

Most big brands have evacuated- Westside, Landmark etc are gone from Spencer’s

Above: The kids cart is all empty without any operator or customer in sight
Below: Lone security guard looks on
The central atrium looks all empty- absolutely no people anywhere, though I did spot a few customers overall.

The owner’s list is not updated to reflect latest occupancy.
Air conditioning in the mall was not very effective- either the old systems are unable to cool effectively or the mall management is cutting some cost by maintaining few degrees higher or not using all available equipment.
I bought one fidget spinner and a belt from a shopkeeper. I think I could have bargained little more but didn’t feel like. He quoted 250 rupees for the belt and 150 for the spinner. Settled for 400 rupees combined.

Why Spencer’s Plaza lost its appeal?
There could be many reasons. Few I can think of are as below:
1. Old building with small shops and limited space: Spencer’s Plaza is two centuries old design. The shops are small, alleys are narrower, open space like atrium are lot smaller. There’s no way to fix this. Public probably finds it more comfortable visiting modern malls which offer more space. Spencer’s has much less height between floors, creating a feeling of less space. The central space is too small for some mall activation (launch events by brands) etc.
2. No movie hall: Most modern malls have a cinema house- visitors watch a movie, eat some food, do some window/real shopping and return. Spencer’s Plaza doesn’t have a provision for a movie hall-instead of going to two places- one for movie, one for mall, people find it convenient to go to a mall with movie I suppose.

3. Most brands have moved out: Westside, Landmark and many other prominent brands have moved to other malls frequented by their customers. Not being able to retain its popular shops meant further drop in footfalls.

Can anything be done to revive Spencer’s plaza?
I am not an expert in this area- I am sure Spencer’s management is evaluating its options. The building has its limitations on how much renovations/improvements can be done. Some possibilities are as below:
Option 1: Close the mall, renovate the interiors and convert into office complex or a hotel. Given its prime location on Anna Salai, there will be takers for office space or hotel rooms.
Option 2: Demolish and build a new mall with modern design and features- very expensive but investment may pay off well

It is not impossible to stay relevant with times. We can take example of Adyar Gate hotel- one of the oldest five star hotels in Chennai. It has changed ownership over time but has been renovated at regular intervals and doesn’t feel under equipped to attract customers, compared to modern day luxury hotels. Do you have any idea for reviving Spencer’s Plaza?


  1. It is not safe fir people to visit such empty malls.

    1. I don't see a safety concern for a quick visit, but yes, some caution is not bad

  2. I think it can be positioned as a heritage building and only businesses that have a culture positioning can occupy it. It can have a performance venue, an arts gallery, theater center, traditional restaurants, etc. Businesses like Fab India that focus on heritage can bring about a change. All its needs now is rebranding, minimal renovations and good promotions

    1. The building was almost destroyed in fire and rebuilt. so part of the heritage is lost.

    2. the fact is that, the erstwhile spencer plaza was fully destroyed in a fire, and at its place, the current mall was built. The earlier building looked like the Heritage add-ons in the central atrium... So if im not mistaken, the whole heritage was 'DESTROYED' to bring about this mall!

  3. Not sure if you have heard of the old saying -it costs too much like in spencers to denote something is expensive.

    Panda's in front have thrown up their hands to say - I am done now ,westside of the mall is empty.

    Security guard is looking /searching for customers he can safeguard while they make their way and is in deep thought as he continues to think in the last but one photo.

    Like they one day everything has to come to an end ,and so will this to ...

  4. This mall is very beautiful mall please please please please please renovate. Make this mall also best mall and luxurious Mall.please do it.


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