A step inside one of Massachusetts Street’s newest stores gives one the feeling of visiting a faraway land — but without having to travel more than 30 hours to get there.
The scent of incense permeates the room. Sequin-dabbled garments in saturated colors dazzle the eyes. Sun glints off bronze statuettes. Bags of exotic spices flank jars of tandoori marinade and mint chutney on back shelves.
Amrutha Ravikumar opened Cosmos Indian Store, cosmosindianstore.com, at 734 Mass. in hopes of not only providing hard-to-find products from home for Indian immigrants like herself, but also to share some of her homeland’s colors, textures and flavors with Americans.
“We are trying to reflect our culture here,” she said.
Ravikumar hails from Chennai, in the southern part of India. Her husband came to the United States to get a master’s degree, and Ravikumar later joined him in Topeka, where she works as a software engineer.
They hadn’t been in Kansas long before opening their first Cosmos Indian Store at 2910 Southwest Oakley Ave. in Topeka.
That store, open for 14 years now, sells mostly groceries, including fresh exotic fruits, herbs and other foods. Despite a slow start, Ravikumar said, the Topeka store now attracts Indian customers all the way from Emporia, Manhattan and even farther cities.
Last year, Ravikumar, her husband and two daughters moved to Lawrence, where she opened the second Cosmos Indian Store on May 5.
There are a number of Indian people here because of Kansas University, she said, as well as a seemingly open-minded local population.
“It’s a diversified place,” Ravikumar said. “We see a lot of different cultures here.”
Ravikumar — busy with her full-time software job and manning two stores — does most of her home-cooking on weekends.
At the store, she sells frozen, commercial versions of some of her favorite food items from southern India, including idli, a type of steamed rice cake; and dosa, a crepe-like pastry often stuffed with potatoes and peas.
Ravikumar would like to expand her grocery selection to include fresh produce and other foods, but for now, the store carries primarily packaged food, decorative and clothing items, plus an array of herbal health and beauty products, ranging from sandal oil soap to cucumber facial masks. She said she’s begun taking appointments for henna tattoos and hopes to offer eyebrow threading soon.
Also at 734 Mass., Ravikumar stores, packs and ships Indian health and beauty items she sells through an online store, indianonlinegrocery.com. She said orders continue to increase on the site, which also sells food items.
Importing goods from India is a long procedure that involves a lot of “formalities,” Ravikumar said. Then again, that’s part of why her shops have been successful.
“That is one of the main reasons I brought everything here,” she said. “It’s quite difficult to find items here.”
While a few other downtown shops sell a few Indian goods, there’s nowhere else with offerings like those at Cosmos, said Cathy Hamilton, director of Downtown Lawrence Inc.
“To have these imports all under one roof I know is a big boon to our Indian population,” she said. “That’s got to be a nice taste of home, if you will.”
Hamilton added that Americans’ interest in Indian culture seems to be growing and that the shop adds to the diversity of Massachusetts Street — where the goal is maintaining a balance in retail and restaurant offerings.
“Anytime you can bring in something like that that’s so unique and not really a direct competitor with anyone else on the street is just a winning situation,” Hamilton said.
So far, Ravikumar said, Massachusetts Street — thanks in part to its foot traffic — has proven a good home.
“I’m glad that I made the decision of opening the location here,” she said. “I’m not sure if I open the location somewhere else that I’m getting the same response as I do now.”