A little over three weeks ago, the Tamil Nadu government decided to allow all shops and establishments in the state to keep shutters open 24/7. Nearly a month into a decision, however, there are few takers for the government’s decision even in retail hubs like Chennai.
A stroll along T-Nagar’s gullies and bustling retail streets reveals that all shops in Chennai’s haven for commerce, down their shutters at 9:00 pm. The same applies to shopping malls whose stores close an hour later, at 10:00 clock.
What exactly went wrong? Why are Chennai’s malls, restaurateurs and retailers not exactly kicked about being allowed to do business all night long?
"For a start, I’d like to hear from the corporation commissioner about the fine print of transitioning to 24-hour business,” said a popular Chennai-based restaurateur who did not want to be named, “It’s very well for the government to tell us we can keep our restaurants open all night, but the corporation is the authority that enforces such rules. Going ahead without waiting for their nod wouldn’t exactly be the best idea."
The restaurateur in question owns two cafes, a pizzeria, an ice-cream parlour and a resto-pub in Chennai. If his establishments receive the corporation nod, to stay open all night, the pizzeria and ice-cream parlour, he says, will stay open all night.
Getting the corporation nod could take time, feels the Retailers’ Association of India. “Various authorities have to come together to make it happen,” said Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, Retailers’ Association of India, “Our experience in Maharashtra has taught us that it takes a lot more time to convince local authorities like Police, Fire and various other people to come in and ensure that smooth operations happen.”
Then there’s a grey area surrounding the legality of pubs and resto-pubs staying open all night long. At present, Tamil Nadu’s FL-2 and FL-3 licenses mandate that pub owners who hold these licenses shut at 11:00 pm and midnight, respectively.
While the new order applies to F&B establishments, pubs come under the Excise Department's ambit. CNBC-TV18 learns that it is unlikely that the department will ease its rules anytime soon.
In the case of malls, a lack of clarity over corporation clearances is coupled with apprehensions over whether there is a market for late-night shopping in Chennai, in the first place.
"We haven’t decided on whether we want to go ahead and keep our mall open all night since over 300 retail brands within our premises need to first decide on whether or not they want to keep their shutters open all night,” said a spokesperson of a well-known mall company, with a property in Chennai, who did not want to be named. This indecision also means multiplexes within malls like this one, could miss out on screening movies all night.
The indecision aside, Chennai’s retail industry is still confident that the concept of a 24-hour business day will gain popularity. "When you compare our revenues from five years ago, to now, you will see that during the evenings the number has increased significantly,” said Ramesh Kalyanaraman, executive director, Kalyan Jewellers, “People are busy working in the mornings, and they prefer to shop in the evenings. Late-night shopping does help in improving our sales."
Ramesh, however, refused to comment on whether Kalyan Jewellers will consider keeping its jewellery stores in Chennai open all night.
The Retailers’ Association of India, meanwhile, is bullish about the medium-to-long-term impact of a 24-hour business day. “We could look at a business growth up to 10 percent over a period of time, but we will need to wait and watch,” said Rajagopalan.
For the Tamil Nadu government, which is staring at a huge revenue deficit, the acceptance of 24/7 shopping, could prove crucial. A 24-hour business day will mean increased GST collections, not to mention a spike in employment levels, as retail stores ramp up the workforce to stay open all night.