Guwahati: Fancy Bazar Business Takes a Dip this Durga Puja
"This year there's nothing, not even 20% compared to last year. Puja is just 8 days to go and still there are no people in market,” said a dejected shirt seller at Annapura Plaza in Guwahati's Fancy Bazar market. He along with the other shirt retailers of the complex had to bear zero economic activity in the lockdown months. "We had to bear heavy losses for 5 months and had to let go of our staff," said the owner, who requested not to be named.
With the relaxed reopening, the shopkeepers had come to terms with the COVID-19 induced lockdown. They were hoping for better days towards the festive end of the year. "We had hopes of making profits during the Puja. People were also excited because of the festivities," said Ashish Roy who owns a retail fashion shop.
However, the recent guidelines issued by the government have irked the shopkeepers. The government has fixed the timings for restaurants and Puja pandals, which are expected to be closed at 9 PM and 10 PM respectively. The sellers believe this has demotivated customers from shopping further thereby reducing the overall demand. "The spirit of the people is gone. If the government wants people inside their houses then close everything down. We have already wasted months and can do it again. We are suffering and will continue to do so," added Roy.
The traditional retail players have also had it difficult. Mohinis, one of the prominent shops of Fancy Bazar, has seen 50% less transactions. "The losses are heavy. It's down by 50% as the market is empty. Our sales are even lower than those during off season," said the sales executive of Mohinis.
Sales are further down for the premium segment. The upper-middle-class section of people have mostly avoided going to Fancy Bazar despite the unlock. "The high-end and upper-middle-class customer footfall is very less," said SK Agarwal, Proprietor of Beach fashion. As per Agarwal, this has been the worst year for trade since the last 40 years after he started his operations.
Fashion retail is a seasonal market with new arrivals demanding the best prices. Procuring of stock has been a challenge for the owners. "The entire clothes retail business is under heavy losses. As fashion changes fast, the entire stock becomes ‘dead’ if we don’t purchase new stuff," said the proprietor of a ladies’ fashion shop in AC market.
With the change of trends and seasons, the clothing goes out of fashion. Since the lockdown the dead stock has piled up for these retailers. "It appears that till 2021, things will be this way and if things remain the same, the entire market will be finished," added the owner.
Apart from fashion retail, the Assamese textile industry has taken a beating. The businesses selling silk and muga products couldn't do any business during the lockdown as the Rongali Bihu was cancelled. With a subdued wedding season and a low spirited Durga Puja, they have a multi-dimensional problem.
"As compared to last year, it’s very bad. Puja is just 10-12 days away. Usually there is no room for customers to enter the market but today I haven’t even sold anything yet," said Bhaskar Kalita of Anita Silk Store, New Market.
The raw cloth fabric materials including shirt, trousers and suits find no takers. Only 10% of earlier sales have been maintained. "Things are horrible. The staff is also facing problems as their salaries are being cut. They are dying of hunger and many are leaving their jobs," said a proprietor from Babu Bazaar.
The raw cloth fabric segment is directly connected to the income of tailors of the NM Market, who are almost out of work this year. "There is nothing in puja. We have no customers and I am unable to even fend for myself. I wonder, how I will pay my rent," said Suresh Ray.
The domino effect: How other segments are affected
The Fancy Bazar ecosystem is dependent on customer footfall. As such, all the segments are connected to each other. Undergarments, bags, shoes, sunglasses, toys and all such segments are affected on account of lower crowds. "The undergarments are facing losses as the Bengali community buys everything new in puja. They are not coming out and we have no sales. Everything is bad nothing, good so far," said an undergarment shop owner from AC Market.
Women’s vanity bags also find no takers. "We can only sell if customers come. The place is usually crowded but now it’s empty. I don’t have much stock but nothing is selling," said Bijay Gupta of Anjali Bags shop.
In Durga Puja, sunglasses are an extremely popular option for the residents of Guwahati. The kids are fond of dark glasses, which symbolically mark the onset of the festivities. "This year sales are very low. Whatever that remains has been taken over by the online market with maximum people opting for it," said the owner of Kamakhya Opticals.
Along with sunglasses, toy shops are suffering the same fate with parents not taking their children for shopping. "Earlier during the season, they would take in bulk but there is no such demand now," said Riju Hussain, a toy seller from Kamarpatty.
Saree sellers opting to sell masks
One of the most important focuses for every puja is women’s fashion. As such, sarees constitute top priority for the customers. The traders claim to have 75% dip in sales. "If we account for local and wedding customers, we are functioning at only about 25%," said Vikas Jain from Memsaab Sarees. He called out to the government for its apathy towards the business community. "The losses the businesses are facing, who will repair that?" said Jain.
The Fancy Bazar sarees are popular even outside Guwahati but due to lower inter-district travel, they have seen lower sales. "People who usually come from villages are not coming. All cloth traders are under loss and there will be no Diwali this time," said the owner of Vandana Sarees.
Owing to the ‘normalcy’ of the COVID-19, the saree retailer is now forced to sell masks which he reveals is his highest selling product. "Only thing we sell these days is 10-12 masks," added the owner.
The worst to be affected is the footpath vendors. Along with lower sales, they are also barred by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) to sit on the footpaths. The hawkers have to keep a lookout for the police. "There is no market. The authorities don't even allow us here, so how will be do business? There is no special demand for puja and my situation is bad. We can't eat properly and are finding it difficult to even pay fees of my daughter’s school," said a hawker.
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