Driving north on Route 107 toward Hicksville, the
landscape quickly morphs from a string of unremarkable strip malls and heavy
industry into a cluster of Indian businesses.
The Travel Time agency, at 349 Broadway, advertises low airfares and
special cruises to popular Indian cities such as Mumbai or Delhi. Action-packed
films and music from Bollywood, India's entertainment industry, can be found
at Lamhe Video or nearby Bombay Plaza.
Along Broadway, curry, cumin and other Indian seasonings are easily
available at markets, including Subzi Mandi and Patel Brothers Grocery. The
grocers sell Indian specialties from dal or lentils to colorful spices in
large, clear plastic bags.
Increasingly, plucky entrepreneurs and a growing number of Indian
homeowners have given rise to a community replete with restaurants where the
aroma of spicy peppers and fresh nan (bread) baking fills the air; area beauty
salons offer "threading," an Indian art of hair removal, instead of waxing; and
sari/bridal shops sell ornate dresses and fabric.
Experts in Indian and South Asian culture say that Indian communities, such
as Jackson Heights, one of the largest in New York, and Hicksville are
maturing and becoming better assimilated into mainstream American society. And
still other Indian communities are emerging in unlikely places, such as in
Sayville, a hamlet known for its clammers and sandy beaches bordering Long
Island's Great South Bay.
According to the most recent U.S. census, the Indian population on Long
Island has more than doubled, from 17,523 in 1990 to 34,333 in 2000. In
Hicksville, according to the census, the Indian population grew from 671 in
1990 to 1,772.
Longtime residents say that in the late 1980s, Indian immigrants planted
the seeds of culture now seen along Route 107, Old Country Road and in the
vicinity of the Hicksville railroad station.
Inside Rangmahal, at 355 Broadway, the smell of simmering curry and other
spices entices diners - many of whom are non-Indian. Owner and chef Arun Verma
says his eatery, with walls adorned with restaurant reviews and Zagat ratings,
was one of the first Indian restaurants to open in Hicksville, in 1995.
Fewer trips to Manhattan
"Many customers say they used to travel into Manhattan for fine Indian
cuisine but since dining at my restaurant, they say it's no longer necessary,"
But competition in the area has been heating up as more restaurants open,
offering more choices. The Taste of India, for example, serves traditional
Indian fare and a Chinese fusion menu. And the House of Dosas and Dosa Diner
specialize in vegetarian cuisine.
In recent months, the Patel Brothers Grocery, regarded as pioneers of South
Asian grocery stores, moved from 290 S. Broadway into a larger retail space a
few blocks away. The Patel Brothers opened one of the first Indian groceries in
the country, but their stores in the metropolitan area are among the largest.
Sanjay Patel, who manages the new Hicksville store, says business just keeps
growing. They had to move to meet market demand. Other grocers hailing from
Jackson Heights have followed suit by opening multiple locations within blocks
of each other.
Madhulika Khandelwal, president of the Asian American Center at Queens
College, says many Indian business owners have been moving to Long Island for a
variety of reasons - including better quality of life and schools and a
greater opportunity for home ownership.
"I think that Hicksville, in particular, represents the growing Indian
presence on Long Island," she says.
Neal Trivedi, 32, an attorney and partner in the law firm Dicresciot &
Trivedi, agrees. He says the decision to move his law office to Hicksville in
November was simple.
"It was a question of economics. Hicksville is a good, central location but
most important was staying close to my mostly Indian clientele," Trivedi says.
"I work with many entrepreneurs, so I needed to locate to a familiar place,
and Hicksville fit the bill."