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    Ground report: At Karol Bagh market, stressed shopkeepers shut down ACs, cut salaries to stay afloat

    Ground report: At Karol Bagh market, stressed shopkeepers shut down ACs, cut salaries to stay afloat

    Ground report: At Karol Bagh market, stressed shopkeepers shut down ACs, cut salaries to stay afloat
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    By Alisha Sachdev   IST (Published)

    It has been two weeks since the lockdown restrictions in Delhi have been eased.  The day is bright and sunny, but the mood among the shop owners in the city's famed Karol Bagh market is one of gloom.
    A one-stop destination for the city's residents for everything from mobile phone covers to wedding wear, this market in Central Delhi would usually be bustling with activity on any given day.
    But for the last two weeks, the otherwise choc-a-bloc lanes have been deserted.
    Shopkeepers say they have never seen anything like this in the many years they have been running their businesses here.  The scare of the Coronavirus continues to make customers apprehensive, as they stay away from shops unless it is to purchase essential items.
    Barring the usual sputtering of battery-operated rickshaws or commuters passing by, the place was almost silent, going by the noise levels till a few months back.
    Shop owners would occasionally come up to the storefronts, despondently take in the empty streets and reconcile themselves to another day of low or no sales.
    All shops open, but no customer footfalls
    While most shops, including single and multi-brand stores and smaller stores, were open, they were hardly any customers.
    "I used to do Rs 40,000-50,000 of sales daily, which has come down to hardly Rs 10,000. I have asked my staff to go. There is zero business in the market right now. I have already shut down two of my four outlets in Delhi, and if things continue like this, I'm afraid I'll have to close down this one too. We can't pay rent when there is no work", a shopkeeper running a men's formal wear business told CNBC-TV18.
    "We have never seen the market like this, even when this was only a small shop, there were customers. People have created a fear of the virus", an assistant working in the store for over two decades told CNBC-TV18.
    Purchases of luxury items such as jewellery and watches are largely driven by  sentiment. Here too, business has been slack. While jewellery stores were near empty, there were a few people coming in for watch repairs.
    "There is hardly any business at the moment. Throughout the day, barely two or three customers show up. Earlier, there were times when customers had to wait their turn to come inside the shop even in this heat. We understand it will take 3-4 months for buyers to return," an owner of a watch store said, adding, "We have to come taking risks, to pay salaries of employees and do some business instead of no business. We keep the ACs off to cut costs. We've even had to cut the salaries of our employees by 40 percent", he said.
    At a shop selling children's footwear, the owner seemed to be sprucing up the racks, even though they were no customers in the shop. He said, "We are left with 10-15 percent of our business, so much investment has gone into it, can't help but wait 2-3 months for buyers to return. To cut costs, we have reduced our services staff, we are not using the AC, and switching on fewer lights".
    "We sell children's fancy footwear - there are no birthday parties or functions happening at the moment, and parents are not bringing their kids out to the market anyway", he said.
    Adapt to survive
    For Ahujasons, a popular apparel brand in North India, the changing market has meant looking at new business opportunities. In a new pop-up store in the market, the shop has started to stock printed masks, which it sells in bundles of five for Rs 100 apiece.
    "No customers are coming despite the shop opening daily. People will come only when the fear of the virus goes away. Our owner thought people will be interested in buying masks from our brand, and that it can become a trend in the future", a sales assistant in the shop said.
    The sun was now setting, but there were still no customers or any signs of buying activity in the market. Shopkeepers are counting on the fear of the virus abating, so people can overcome their apprehension and return to the market.
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