HAYWARD — Across from the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, there's a Mission Boulevard strip mall that's easy to miss.
It's old — built in 1951 — and fits right in along the stretch of abandoned auto dealerships, fast-food outlets and car service centers.
When the sun goes down, the shopkeepers don't stick around.
"No, it's not safe here," said Varsha Patel, who owns the Sagar Exclusive Boutique. She said the women who make up her clientele are discouraged by the sketchy surroundings, and called her shop "a good gem, hidden in a ghetto."
But Waseem Khan says a dramatic transformation is on the horizon, and soon the mall will be a hub for shoppers looking for flavors, looks and sounds of India, Fiji, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Persia.
A specialized South Asian mini-mall, he said, "the first of its kind in the Bay Area."
"It will be like having all of (Berkeley's) University Avenue in one mall," said Khan, who is managing the project for the property owner.
There's already Curry Corner, the Sagar Boutique, India Music House, Saudager Grocery and Diamond Barber Shop.
Leases are signed for a hookah lounge, a large fine-dining restaurant, bakery, halal burger and pizza parlor, beauty store and sweets shop.
Combined, the tenants will take up more than 70 percent of the 43,000 square feet available at the mall, which will be welcome. Currently, only about 30 percent of the storefronts are occupied.
There is a fair degree of skepticism among current tenants. Some say they've heard this plan before, many times, and wonder if a landlord who doesn't fix the lights in the parking lot is up to the task of giving the entire structure a face-lift.
The common refrain: "I'll believe it when I see it."
But former City Manager Jesus Armas, who now works as a consultant and has been working with Khan, said the situation has changed.
"The owner was going to convert much of this to condominiums, and allowed leases to run their course," Armas said. "Investing in the property under those conditions would have been a poor use of money."
But since the housing market tanked and took the condo plan with it, the improvements make more sense, Armas said. The city has approved the renovations, and the last step is securing the needed loans to go through with it.
That's something Khan expects to be finalized in the near future, and his optimism cannot be curbed.
"It's going to happen, it's just a matter of whether it's 30 days from now or 60 days from now," he said.
He said the mall will be reminiscent of Little India in Artesia, a thriving strip of ethnic shops in a Los Angeles suburb.
There are more than 10 temples and mosques within a 10-mile radius, he said, proof that there's a population to serve.
And if it's a success, he's thinking of trying something similar in San Jose and possibly other cities down the line.
It could spread locally, Khan said, if the city and other investors witness the success.
"Maybe we'll see some of those car dealerships converted into (ethnic) shopping centers," he said. "This will give other investors ideas."
"A place like this, it's going to be a destination," he said. "Family-oriented. Ladies can go get their nails done, guys can sit down and smoke a hookah, or maybe have some tea. It will draw traffic from all around."
Eric Kurhi covers Hayward. Reach him at 510-293-2473. Read our blog at www.ibabuzz.com/hayword.