The once-bustling narrow lane of Kasauli’s oldest heritage market– which has been wearing a desolate look since the on-set of the pandemic– has been finding some visitors on the weekends following Diwali.
Even about two months after opening, the heritage market shopkeepers still await any signs of major revival of the local economy.
The heritage market that houses over 30 shops, is usually the busiest in November, say shopkeepers. This year, it is devoid of its usual hurly-burly.
“Earlier, there used to be over 500 visitors alone in this lane every day. Today, there are not even 100. And even if people come, they hardly buy anything the way they used to. They fear in touching things. Mostly, it is just hot snacks that they buy,” says Amit Chopra, who runs Mom’s kitchen, an eatery located at the heritage market.
Be it souvenirs, woolen clothes or small wooden items, shopkeepers say that the sale of every item has been impacted, however, they must continue paying rent ranging between Rs two to eight lakh per year.
“Permission to open the heritage market was given only from September 16 onwards. Had the heritage market remained closed even for one more month, most of us would have faced a severe crisis. Even now, the sales have not picked up much,” adds Chopra.
Shopkeepers say that they were exempted from paying some part of the rent but that was not enough.
“We, shopkeepers, were exempted from paying rent for 58 days only since the lockdown and the rest of it we had to pay even as our market was shut. Most of us had to shell out savings to pay the rent. We also had to ask some of our workers to leave, as from where would we have earned to pay their salaries,” he adds.
On Sunday too, it was just the eating joints where people thronged — especially to the bun samosa and coffee counters.
A shopkeeper, who sells wooden toys and stationery, says that due to the fear of touching a virus infected object, people are only looking at items and not buying them. They say, even after two months, the sales are only 20-30 per cent of the original numbers.
“People just come and see what all we are selling. They do not buy the stuff. Initially when Kasauli had opened, there was huge rush but now again it has slowed down. Another factor is that mostly foreigners visit us and now, because international tourists are unable to come, that has also impacted us a lot,” says a shopkeeper, requesting anonymity.
As workers of most of the shops left for their native place, many outlets are being entirely run by families, including the children.
Some of the say, with Christmas and New Year approaching, a ray of hope is glinting for the traders, as they expect a heavy rush. However, they also fear restrictions that may be levied in view of the coronavirus spread.
“If the government imposes restrictions in the Christmas and New Year week, that is going to dash all our hopes. That season is just like Diwali for us. Hopefully things will improve soon,” says the shopkeeper.
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