As retail markets across the city gradually reopened to minimal customers on Tuesday, shopkeepers and trade association heads emphasised that the re-opening of public transport will be the key to livening up markets.
R K Chawla (55), who has been selling footwear in Sarojini Nagar for around 40 years, said late Tuesday afternoon, “I have never seen a situation like this in my life. When the 1984 riots took place, the shop was shut for around 15 days. But this time, it will take us years to recover our losses and make profits again. Since morning, I have not seen a single customer.”
He was among the 10-12 shopkeepers in the normally bustling market to have opened their store. “I am paying Rs 10,000 to each of my four staff members. Then we have to pay for electricity. If the situation does not improve, I will stop opening the store. Shopkeepers who have to pay rent have shut shop and gone to their villages,” he said.
Ashok Randhawa, president of the Sarojini Nagar Mini Market Traders Association, attributed the lack of life at the market to lack of public transport and unresolved issues with finer details.
“Metro is our lifeline. Once the Metro restarts, we expect more customers. There are around 600 shops in Sarojini, which will follow an odd-even scheme while opening. Today, only a few were open because there were a number of issues that we are yet to discuss with the SDM and Delhi Police. There was a dispute regarding the temperature gun. They said every shop needs one whereas we would prefer to do the check at the main gate. We are afraid because if even one person gets the virus, the entire market will be sealed. There is also a dispute about whether street hawkers will be allowed in the market. Once these issues are resolved, more shops will open.”
At the centre of the city, Connaught Place was nearly barren. The New Delhi Traders Association estimated that only around 80 shops opened in the sprawling commercial hub, home to over 1,000 big and small shops.
“A lot of the shopkeepers do not have the confidence to open their stores at this time. Today, 500 cases were reported from the city… An odd-even system also doesn’t work in a retail market like this where customers like to compare prices and products in different stores, and complete all their buying in a single trip. This is a planned market with a 10 feet gap between each shop, which should be taken into consideration… I have had shopkeepers telling me they had zero sales today,” said Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders Association.
Vikas Luthra, store manager at Flying Machine, was among those who saw no customers. “We are ensuring that only six people are inside the store at a point and if anyone tries a garment, it will be washed. Since Rajeev Chowk Metro station is a connecting point for many, many people stop at CP. We think that once the Metro resumes, footfall will improve a bit,” he said.
The centrality of the Metro and full bus services was echoed by the market associations of Lajpat Nagar and Karol Bagh, which reopened with approximately 30% and 48% shops respectively. Both said customer footfall was negligible on the first day, with the day mostly being spent on cleaning and arranging products.
“The lack of transport also affects manpower. About 90% of employees use public transport. Not everyone can use autos at this time when everyone is strained economically,” said Sanjeev Madan, president of the Lajpat Nagar Traders Association.
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