British Columbia

The value of Vaisakhi: A look at the economic impact of the Sikh celebration

The value of Vaisakhi extends past its community and religious aspects. The huge number of people who celebrate also provide an economic boost to local businesses and merchants.

People come from outside B.C. to buy new clothes, jewelry, footwear to celebrate the festival

Business like Patiala Fashions, in Surrey, B.C., see a noticeable uptick in business around Vaisakhi as people attending the festival want new outfits (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

Vaisakhi is a time for big crowds and big business. 

When the annual procession moves through Surrey on Saturday, millions of dollars will have been put into the local economy.

In 2014, it was estimated Surrey's Vaisakhi weekend generated $30 million in spending. That was when the event was small, attracting only about 200,000 people.

In the past five years, crowds have more than doubled. 

CBC reporter Belle Puri spoke to three local merchants and businesses for whom Vaiskakhi is both a time to celebrate and a time buckle up for business.

Vaisakhi feeding frenzy

The thousands of people attending Vaisakhi mean there are thousands of mouths to feed.

For Tony Singh, president of grocery chain Fruiticana, keeping his giant warehouses stocked full of produce is key to keeping up with demand.

"We start [planning] right after Vaisakhi for the next year. So we start a year before: how many people we served and  what else we can do better for the next year," Singh said from Fruiticana's 90,000 square-foot-main warehouse.

The company has about 130,000 square feet of storage across its two warehouses.

Tony Singh, president of grocery chain Fruiticana, says his tent typically serves about 80,000 people every year at Vaisakhi (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

Part of that planning involves looking at what products are more popular. Key ingredients include mangoes, channa flour and oil for cooking, and disposable trays and cups.

"For mangoes for example, [demand] doubles that one weekend, and for all the trays and channa flour and atta, it goes up to 30 to 40 per cent higher this Vaisakhi weekend than the rest of the year."

To manage demand, Singh doubles his warehouse staff from roughly 30 to 60 workers during Vaisakhi. The spike in shopping sales begins the Tuesday before the big parade, but the numbers don't peak until the following Monday.

Mangoes are one of the most popular products during Vaisakhi, with demand doubling during the festival's weekend. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

He remembers a time when the parade was attended by a few thousand people. Now, hundreds of thousands of people flood the streets.

"Ten years ago, when I walked the street on Vaisakhi, I could walk freely, there were maybe hundreds of people. Now I cannot walk through the same street."

Looking fresh for the festival

Just like Singh, the owners of Patiala Fashions begin preparing for Vaisakhi long in advance.

"November to January is our slow time, so we start preparing then because it's such a crazy time for us," said Rhubina Dharni, who runs the store with her mother. "We need at least eight weeks to get in our shipments from India."

Rubina Dharni sees the same customers at her family-run clothing shop every year. She thinks it's because people want to look fresh for the festival. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

Dharni knows why it gets busier. "Every year I feel like every person wants to get a new suit for this event. We'll see the same customers… they're all coming in to shop here."

Patiala Fashions carries suits in a range of colours — particularly traditional Sikh Khalsa colours like orange, blue and yellow, reflecting its diverse set of customers.

"We have people coming in from Seattle, Calgary, Alberta, Kelowna, Salt Lake City — from all over the map. It's really crazy," said Dharni.

Building relationships through business

Perhaps the busiest of them all is Harpreet Sihota, owner of Vancity Tent Rentals.

As one of the larger tent providers in the city, Sihota works with businesses both big and small. In fact, his company provides the tents for Fruiticana.

If you want to rent one of his 50 tents this close to the festival, you're probably out of of luck.

In order to keep up with demand during Vaisakhi, Harpreet Sihota's company bought a smaller tent provider to supplement his supply. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

"I'm pretty much booked out. You probably heard my phone ringing about two minutes ago, that was probably someone asking for a tent coming up for this Thursday."

The festival is seen as an opportunity to connect with each other.

"You see a lot of small businesses renting out tents; free food, free everything, advertising their businesses but at the same time giving back to the community," said Sihota.

"I've also been able to build multiple relationships with all sorts of different people. That's really helped my network as well."

with files from Belle Puri

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