People & Community

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Saturday, Oct 27 2012 04:43 PM

Neighborhood Spotlight: Bakersfield’s Sikhs

By Myriam Valdez

Binder Singh is hard at work wiping down a presentation glass for the grand opening of his new shop, Nanak Sweets & Spices on the corner of Wible Road and Panama Lane in southwest Bakersfield.

The new specialty shop sells traditional Indian treats and staple ingredients that, as Singh hopes, will be a success among the growing Indian communities in the neighborhood.

Related Info

• 79: percentage of people who are homeowners (60 percent of residents throughout Bakersfield)
• 99: percentage of Indian households that have children (54 percent throughout Bakersfield)
• 50: percentage of all Indian households which have incomes of $75,000 or more (30 percent throughout Bakersfield)
• Nearly 70: percentage of Indian heads of households who are 60 years old or older

Top three Indian neighborhoods in Kern County:
• 93313 (567 households)
• 93311 (387 households)
• 93307 (183 households)

Source: Nielsen Claritas Inc., The Bakersfield Californian Market Research Department (2010)

Related Photos

Binder Singh is the owner of Nanak Sweets & Spices on Panama Lane.

The Sikh Temple is a spiritual and social center for the neighborhood.

Amanpreet Sarai, Ridgeview High School student body president, leaves a student government meeting that she led earlier in the morning.

Women at the Sikh Temple prepare food that is free of cost to guests.

Home to Indian restaurants, specialty stores and various shops, Singh is not alone in his business ventures in the Panama-Wible area of southwest Bakersfield. In the past few years, new Indian-owned and operated businesses have found success in the area.

The strength of the Indian community is becoming the driving force in the flourishing market. 

“Ten years ago, that neighborhood was an empty field,” Bakersfield Planning Director Jim Eggert said.

Indian-owned businesses may be gravitating to this neighborhood because commercial space is more affordable than the spaces in the Northwest Promenade or The Marketplace, Eggert said, and is considered a prime location to open up shop.

A former truck driver, Singh opened Nanak’s after seeing the potential of the neighborhood.

“Opening my business near where I live, and the convenience of being near the Indian community were some of the main reasons I brought my business here,” Singh said.

Manny Brar, owner of PostNet on Panama Lane, immigrated from Vancouver to start his business in Bakersfield in 2002.

“Back then, I was one of few Sikh business owners in this area,” Brar said. “The growth of Sikh-owned businesses in this area is huge.”

Among the larger Indian communities in Bakersfield, Sikh families share a strong multi-general family structure and bond. With the average head of household in the community being 63 years old, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, it’s not uncommon for grandparents to live with their children’s family.

The neighborhood is also home to a new generation.

Amanpreet Sarai, a Sikh teenager and senior at Ridgeview High School, is on track to become valedictorian of her class, and recalls growing up in the neighborhood.

“When I was younger, there were 11 of us living in a three-bedroom house. I have no idea how we did it, but it was so much fun,” Sarai said. “Each afternoon we would go to the neighborhood park or to the backyard and just run around.”

Having many age groups in one household is a boon to aspiring businesses in the southwest that rely heavily on word-of-mouth to advertise business. On a typical weekend, families usually attend Gurdwara, or temple, where they worship and socialize with friends.

That’s the case with Kamal Gill, pharmacist and owner of the recently opened Panama Pharmacy & Medical Supply. His business relies heavily on the Sikh communities in the area who visit his pharmacy for medical advice from a trained professional who speaks their language.

“Before I opened my business, almost no one else in the area could address the pharmaceutical and medical supply needs of this community,” said Gill, whose pharmacy also delivers prescriptions and medical supplies to patients. “Many older people in the Sikh and Indian communities no longer have their driver’s licenses. Our pharmacy tries to give access to them to address their medical needs safely and conveniently.”

Indian businesses rely heavily on families and its community to succeed. During Nagarkirtan, a Sikh parade, Gill and other Indian business owners market massively to the thousands of Sikhs living in the greater Bakersfield area.

“Events like these are a huge opportunity to let people know of upcoming events or new businesses like my own, which can help them in their daily lives,” Gill said.

For Binder Singh, he’s hoping the community with strong Indian familial ties will bring business to Nanak Sweets & Spices. 

If recent successes in this thriving neighborhood is any indicator, it’s likely Nanak’s will do just fine.

— Have a particular neighborhood that you want us to feature? Email us at bakersfieldlife@bakersfield.com with the message subject line: Neighborhood Spotlight. Please include why this neighborhood deserves a spotlight.

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