India Sari Palace
2534 W Devon Ave. Chicago, IL 60659
The first Indian store to open on Devon Avenue, India Sari Palace or ISP is now a national chain. ISP branches are located in Artesia, LA, Queens, New York, and Washington DC. It is part of an international network of business, with its headquarters in Dubai and associates in Germany, Japan and Canada. When you walk into this store, you are not only inside a store that marks the origins of this Indian ethnic marketplace, but also, you are connected to a network that is part of a historic global diasporic network.
Sindhi traders were spread across the British Empire during the twentieth century and transnational trade of fabrics connected many of these traders during early years of the 20th Century. In 1930s Manghanmal Hiranand, founded India Emporium Ltd. in Hong Kong and soon it became a global leader in saris across the Indian diaspora. In 1956 Hiranand began trading synthetic weaves from Japan and selling them as saris across the world. Synthetic silk became very popular because unlike cotton and silk saris, they were light, easy to wash, and required less care and maintenance. By the late 1970s Indians from the US would take these saris back to India because they were not available (or very expensive) in India. Indian sari stores across the United States flourished due to this trade of synthetic saris. India Sari Palace emerges from Hiranand’s global empire.
Ann Kalayil, who works at the University of Chicago grew up in this neighborhood and worked in the Sari Palace when she was in high school. She recounts that Ratan Sharma the owner of this store chose to open his store in this location because of its proximity to the Northern suburbs of Greater Chicago. As the number of Indians grew in the United States, India Sari Palace had to compete with new ethnic dress stores popping up all over its neighborhood.
Compare the interior of this store with Taj Sari Palace (2553 Devon Avenue) and Sahil (2605-07 Devon Avenue). Compare the storefront displays, carefully examine the mannequins, and look for visual order on the store window. Can you read how the three storefronts communicate class and taste via visual and material culture?
Before you leave this place, check out the door next to ISP that leads upstairs to the Midwest Asian American Center, a social organization “dedicated to improving intergenerational intercultural understanding among Chicago area residents through programs to promote education, health and recreation.” There are many similar immigrant services tucked away in the upper stories of the buildings along Devon Avenue, a world invisible to most bystanders.
For more on Alpa Thakkar, store manager at ISP see the People Section.
Text by Arijit Sen