Chennai’s Shopping Hub T Nagar Opens Amid Lockdown to No Customers

After a long lull, shops in T Nagar have opened but businesses have not improved because there are no customers.

Published05 Jun 2020, 06:27 AM IST
Coronavirus
5 min read

Video Editor & Cameraperson: Smitha TK

On any day, weekend or otherwise, T Nagar, Chennai’s shopping hub will be bustling with people. One needs to fight their way through the crowds. Even the disastrous floods and cyclone did not stop customers. For the first time ever, the entire area was shut down for over 2 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After a long lull, businesses opened up in the first week of May following an order from the Tamil Nadu government allowing all standalone shops to be open. However, the deserted shops still await for customers to return.

Pondy Bazaar, Usman Road and Ranganathan Street in T Nagar are the hotspots where you can find textiles, accessories, utensils, cosmetics, restaurants, decoration, fruits, vegetables, flowers... the list just goes on.

The Quint took a walk down these streets and spoke to shopkeepers to understand how they are faring during the lockdown.

“There is no impulsive buying, only compulsive buying,” said Harish, a shopkeeper. The trade union has enforced strict guidelines for every store in the area to check the temperature of customers, sanitise the shop every few hours, clean the counters after a customer visits and insist that everyone wear masks.

The temperature of the employees should be checked every few hours, and if anyone shows any symptoms, he should be sent for medical examination.

The temperature of the employees should be checked every few hours.
The temperature of the employees should be checked every few hours.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)
After a long lull, businesses opened up in the first week of May following an order from the Tamil Nadu government allowing all standalone shops to be open.
After a long lull, businesses opened up in the first week of May following an order from the Tamil Nadu government allowing all standalone shops to be open.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)

Many restaurants have opened and are following strict social distancing guidelines and allowing only takeaways. However, citing hygiene, customers are choosing to buy only coffee or tea, many owners said.

“Many restaurants have not opened because operating costs are much more than the money they can earn in a day. They won’t be able to pay their workers so they’d rather choose to remain closed,” said Chandran, manager of Hot Chips restaurant.

Many workers have now switched to selling tea in flasks or on their cycles to those who come to these abandoned roads for walking later in the evening.

Most restaurants are still allowing only takeaway of food.
Most restaurants are still allowing only takeaway of food.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)
Many workers have now switched to selling tea in flasks or on their cycles to those who come to these abandoned roads for walking later in the evening.
Many workers have now switched to selling tea in flasks or on their cycles to those who come to these abandoned roads for walking later in the evening.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)

April - May is Peak Season Due to Ramzan, Summer Holidays

“Had this lockdown happened during the rainy season, we probably would not have been affected as much. This is our season for best business and we have been hard hit.”
Jewellery Shop Owner
Jewellery shop owners said Ramzan season is one of the best times for business but this year has been the worst.
Jewellery shop owners said Ramzan season is one of the best times for business but this year has been the worst.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)

During the summer months, many of these shops selling school uniforms and shoes make huge sales. However with uncertainty over reopening of schools, their stocks are just gathering dust.

“Normally, this is the time people go for holidays. So people do holiday shopping and if they are going to visit people, they'll take gifts for them. Usually schools will be restarting so we'll have uniform business,” said Vikas, owner of Kalaniketan which has been open since 1992.

Shoe stores in Pondy Bazaar told that they usually would make at least 200 sales for school shoes everyday, but they get hardly 5-10 enquiries in a day, and not even two translate into sales.

Meanwhile, there has been an absolute cap on imports from within the country and abroad.

“Our imports come from other states like Mumbai, Kolkata, Jaipur. Mumbai is number one in coronavirus so obviously we cant get goods from there. And now with workers having returned to their hometowns, production won’t resume for at least two months,” said a jewellery store owner.

Shops that recently opened up have been badly hit as they have not even recovered the initial costs.
Shops that recently opened up have been badly hit as they have not even recovered the initial costs.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)
Shops are open but are deserted with no customers.
Shops are open but are deserted with no customers.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)

With No Salaries, Daily Wage Labourers Pushed to Extreme Poverty

Small-time shopkeepers and workers requested the government to provide them weekly ration and monetary assistance.
Small-time shopkeepers and workers requested the government to provide them weekly ration and monetary assistance.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)

Ranganathan Workers Association told that many of the stores have opened to provide relief to thousands of daily wage labourers employed in these stores.

“We are not open for boosting business. We are now doing maintenance, cleaning up all the dust, checking if rats have eaten into any of our goods. And only if the workers come to the shop will they get paid. It has been two months since they’ve been given salaries, and if we don’t open shops even now, then they will starve and die,” said Asif, a shop owner.

The association has instructed all shops to strictly adhere to the guidelines and anyone who violates will not be allowed to operate.

Joseph was selling headphones earlier but has switched to selling masks now.
Joseph was selling headphones earlier but has switched to selling masks now.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)

“For the month of March, we paid workers salaries in full. For April, we gave them an advance payment. But we are yet to decide for what to do henceforth as they've not been able to come to work,” said another shop owner.

Nalini whose family has three tailoring machines set up in a small shop said she was solely dependant on the wages she receives every day. Usually, during Ramzan they receive a number of orders but this year they are afraid if poverty will push them to take an extreme decision.

“We charge Rs 100 for stitching a salwar and we have to pay the tailor Rs 30. And then, we need to pay rent for the shop which amounts to Rs 10,000, our house rent and daily expenses. My husband and I have to support our daughter, an aged mother and mother-in-law. How will I do that if I am not earning a single penny,” she asked.

“The government is just adding one lockdown after another. At this rate, we will have to commit suicide and will be left with no other choice.”
Nalini, Tailor Shop Owner
The association has instructed all shops to strictly adhere to the guidelines and anyone who violates will not be allowed to operate.
The association has instructed all shops to strictly adhere to the guidelines and anyone who violates will not be allowed to operate.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)
Ranganathan Workers Association told that many of the stores have opened to provide relief to thousands of daily wage labourers employed in these stores.
Ranganathan Workers Association told that many of the stores have opened to provide relief to thousands of daily wage labourers employed in these stores.
(Photo: The Quint/ Smitha TK)

Since 3 June, the state government has allowed limited public buses and auto rickshaws to ply on the roads. But the restricted movement has not helped employees to commute from far off places and also has not encouraged customers to return to their routine activities.

Small-time shopkeepers and workers requested the government to provide them weekly ration and monetary assistance to sustain themselves during this lockdown, until businesses return to normalcy.

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