With car parks fully occupied, families and friends strolling by, and commuters walking in and out of Rajiv Chowk Metro station, it looks like business as usual at Connaught Place. However, those who work in the upscale market area tell a different story.
Shyam Sunder (57), an auto driver, waits for customers outside Metro gate number 7 — the only gate open as part of Covid protocol — all day, spending his free time calculating how much money he owes people.
“I have done this work for over 25 years but never been in a situation like this. Earlier this week, I had to pay board examination fees (Rs 1,500 each) for my twins, a boy and a girl, who study in a government school and will sit for their Class X exams. I also purchased a phone on EMI so they can attend online classes. I took a loan of Rs 4,000. I do not earn more than Rs 200-250 a day,” he said.
Even though people visit the market nowadays, he said, most come in their cars. Since tourists are not around, hardly anyone uses autos.
Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders Association, said, “Business improved a bit in August but went down in September as Covid cases are rising. Things will only get better once we come out of this.”
Shopkeepers echoed a similar concern. At Palika Bazaar, which has now been open for around two months, a number of vendors tried to get the attention of every prospective buyer. “Earlier, we would not get time to breathe, there were so many customers. Now, we barely get two-three customers a day. We are waiting for tourism to restart,” said Sonu Kumar (25), who has a tattoo parlour and accessory shop.
Many people are seen in masks, but very few wear them properly. Incidentally, CP is the market where the most number of challans are issued daily, said police. A police officer from the Connaught Place police station said, “At least 50 people are issued Covid-related challans in the area every day.”
Outside bigger stores, posters such as ‘buy 1 get 2 free’ have been put up. Tapan Ghosh, manager of the Skechers shoe store, said, “Most stores have continued their end-of-season sale just to get customers to buy products. For stores of this size, rent and electricity is a huge burden.”
Similarly, Park Avenue too saw few customers walking in during the day. Manager Raj Kumar (30) said, “Our sales are somewhere around 30-35% of the usual. Even though the Metro has increased footfall, only one gate is opened so that has not impacted the entire market.” However, he was hopeful about the festive season generating some profit.
Sachin Sonkar (35) a mobile cover seller, echoed the same: “I thought that reopening the Metro will bring in business. But people don’t want us to touch their phones anymore. It isn’t possible for us to sell our products this way.”
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