Delhi-based entrepreneur Naveneet Kalra isn’t too worried about reopening his restaurant in Washington DC, as ample monetary support has come his way from the US government. He is, however, concerned about his restaurants and bars, including Public Affair, Townhall and Khan Chacha, in Delhi’s posh Khan Market.
“There’s no relief package for us here. I employ over 600 people in Delhi and I paid their salaries in April, but May will be harder. I will make sure they don’t go hungry but I am not sure how I will pay salaries. We don’t know when we will reopen, how long before people return to dining. When we do return, it will be with fewer staffers, sadly,” said Kalra.
As per American commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield, in 2019, Khan Market commanded maximum rent sq ft per month in India, at Rs 1,350. Mumbai’s Linking Road is marked at Rs 800, and Hyderabad’s MG Road is Rs 120.
Anuj Bahri of Bahrisons Booksellers said, “Our only worry is if customers will return or not. There isn’t much respite on rents either. Sab bhagwan bharose hai.” Bahrisons Booksellers has been at Khan Market since 1953. Abhinav Bamhi of Faqir Chand and Sons bookstore said that they “only employ two people and aren’t worried about sales as much”.
“But there is uncertainty about when we will open shops. It will take us a year at least to revive. People come to market just to stroll or browse through books or for just a coffee… The charm will go away, at least for a while,” he said.
Vaibhav Singh, who runs Perch, a two-storey wine and coffee bar in Khan Market, said his optimism is shrinking each day. “We are staring at a new normal, it will never be the same, including dining. I am not sure how we will be able to sustain ourselves without any earnings. Consumer behaviour will be unpredictable. We can pay salaries for the first two months but after that we will have to figure it out,” said Singh.
He said that talks are on over rents with the market association and landlords. “I am worried that with job cuts and salary cuts, dining may not see the same kind of footfall,” said Singh.
Kalra said restaurant owners are awaiting direction from the government on how to reopen eating places. “In Washington DC, I have been asked to open at only 50 per cent capacity. We are looking at similar things here — you will see people with masks on, sitting far away, restaurants might check body temperatures before letting people in.”
For now, Kalra has decided not to collect rent from his tenants in Khan Market. Sajiv Mehra, president of the Khan Market Association and owner of Allied Store, said: “Rents will be discussed and each case will be looked at on humanitarian grounds. Strollers won’t return to the market early, only those who have genuine work will come when the market opens. Our fear is that many might shift to online deliveries.”
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