Bengaluru’s SP Road spans more than 1,500 stores over an untidy, 2-kilometer stretch of land. When it rains, it’s a swamp. It’s lined with mobile- and laptop-repair shops that range from the size of a cramped single-person booth to wide, two-story retail stores. The streets are loud with traffic, and have no sidewalk. Visitors constantly dodge scooters whizzing past. 

Nihal Mohan, a slight young man who’s been an SP Road-goer since his teens, is Rest of World’s guide. Here, bargaining for electronics parts is a rite of passage for Bengaluru’s hardware geeks; in college, Mohan was the resident “SP Road guy” who procured drone parts on demand for his club. His hobby turned into business, and he rose to become a senior executive at Skylark Drones, an Indian startup. 

From purchasing Nichrome wires for foam-cutting to finding reinforcements for drone underparts that ensure a smooth landing, Mohan sourced key parts from SP Road. (90% of drone parts are still imported from China, Mohan told Rest of World, and the remaining 10% can be hunted down at the market.) One Muslim storekeeper came to be his “sensei,” helping him find obscure components — once, even rare neodymium magnets used to make interlocking drone parts. “I would always go to him whenever I had a new [challenge],” Mohan recalled.

SP Road bubbled up as an electronics hub in the early 1970s, and traders have adapted to multiple waves of technological trends. Traders hailing from the Marwari business community set up shops to resell amplifiers and sound systems; over several decades, a sprawling market emerged to service and source parts for electronics like radios, videocassettes, televisions, and more. Now, it provides for the smartphone and drone era. Different groups own their personal patches: Muslim traders dominate iron, steel, and hardware sales, while Marwari businessmen lead the electronics market.

SP stalwarts have their complaints. The Bangalore Electronic Dealers Association (BEDA), of which second-generation businessman Vishal Varandani is a member, is unhappy with the state of the roads, and decried the surge of unauthorized, upstart businesses servicing mobile phones. “There’s a lot of encroachment,” Varandani told Rest of World.

During Rest of World’s visit in October, a paranoid shop owner saw us photographing one of the many buildings on SP Road, and screamed at us to halt. Then they sent a teenager to inspect the photos, followed by an older man rechecking the photos for images of their shop. It was probably one of the many illegal establishments that have sprung up, a former BEDA member told us later.

Legendary store Ankit Infotek has been running for two decades; its journey to e-commerce is considered a towering success. They’ve created a niche in building PCs for Twitch streamers and cryptocurrency miners, and jerry-rigging computers for AI workloads. Inside its SP Road retail store, two men, with WhatsApp Business open on their desktop computer, field the queries trickling in lightning-fast from online customers. They constitute the chat support team, explained Vikas Jhawar, the shop’s second-generation owner, to Rest of World. Today, four years after the launch of its e-commerce operations, 50% of orders come through its website. “In another five to 10 years, most of our sales will be online,” Jhawar said, “and that’s the future.”

People move along SP Road during a rain storm.
A view of SP road during the day. Bengaluru’s SP Road spans more than 1,500 stores over an untidy, 2-kilometer stretch of land.
Technicians work at a mobile phone repair shop.