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Verulam: Businesses sweet in sugar town

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Settled by around 400 Methodists in 1850, the area is now home to shopping centres and many formal and informal businesses

Situated along the eThekwini Municipality’s northern corridor on the slopes of the Umdloti River, Verulam is the third oldest settlement in KwaZulu-Natal after Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

The small sugar town was settled by a party of around 400 Methodists under the patronage of Earl of Verulam in 1850, with the name paying homage to Verulamium, an ancient Roman town built on the Celtic town of Vermian, meaning “built above the marsh”.

Today the densely populated town includes a multitude of strip mall-type shopping centres, larger commercial shopping centres, mosques, temples and churches. The outskirts of the town incorporate large farming areas, several built-up townships and rural townships. Arguably the most spectacular religious site is the Shri Gopalall Hindi Temple, opened by Indian humanitarian Mahatma Gandhi in 1913 and situated in the small suburb of Temple Valley.

This is one of South Africa’s oldest temples and still caters for prayers and wedding ceremonies. Surrounding the Verulam central business district are smaller industrial areas including Missionlands, Canelands and Ottawa that accommodate larger industries.

The town is dotted with interesting architecture that speaks of many different heritages.
Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

The smaller manufacturing businesses are typically located within the Verulam CBD. Operating alongside the formal commercial businesses are many informal operations.

Despite limited space provided for this sector in the town centre, Verulam has a well-established informal trading sector with sheltered structures erected in the bus and taxi rank area and along Ireland Road.

Accommodated within the informal trading sector is a variety of take-away, fruit and vegetables, hardware and manufactured goods stands. Local government facilities within Verulam include the magistrates’ court, South African Police Service, eThekwini Municipality Sizakala customer service centre to ensure residents have access to resolving council-related queries, departments of labour and social welfare, a primary healthcare centre and a public library, providing residents with their constitutional needs. Local schools and places of worship cater to the residents’ religious requirements and speak to the different cultures living within the town.

However, as early as 2010, a report released by interdisciplinary design practice Iyer, titled Verulam Town Centre Precinct Plan, highlighted crime among the challenges impacting on commercial development and business growth in Verulam.

The report noted the majority of businesses believed crime – ranging from car hijacking to shoplifting and petty theft – was rife in the town centre.

Today the proliferation of barbed wire, security bars and gates bears sad witness to that statement. There are various commercial and industrial properties for sale or rental in Verulam.

Verulam has an abundance of smaller strip-malls with independently owned stores. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

This week Umhlanga-based estate agents Prime Property released on to the market an industrial property for R30.2 million offering development and business opportunities with easy access to King Shaka International Airport.

The vacant land, zoned service industry, is about 38 213m² and located either 3.5km or 5km from the airport, depending on the route taken. The sewer connections are fully laid with the main line on the property’s border and there is around 1 700m² of covered space available. The agency also brought a scrapyard business to the market this week. 

The 7 000m² site has covered parking and is located on the highway, boosting its advertising potential and visibility. The R1m sales price includes the stock. Also coming to the market this week is a 340m² commercial property to let for R44/ m² by Century 21 Umhlanga.

The site suits a starter restaurant as the building is located in the Verulam city centre and the lease includes fryers, grillers, dough proofers, work tables, extractor fans and tables. Another option is converting the space into a cut-make-and-trim business to serve the clothing and textile industry as the area has ample space and is sectioned off.

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