Six weeks on, Delhi unlocks: Footfall in markets low on day 1, shopkeepers say people wary of stepping out of their homes, staff yet to return

While issuing rules for unlockdown, the Delhi government had said shops in markets and malls can open on an odd-even basis while the Delhi Metro can operate with 50% capacity.

Cobbled streets of Delhi’s markets remained empty on Monday as shops opened after nearly two months of Covid lockdown. With people wary of stepping out of their homes and staff yet to return, shopkeepers believe it will take weeks for business to resume in full swing.

While issuing rules for unlockdown, the Delhi government had said shops in markets and malls can open on an odd-even basis while the Delhi Metro can operate with 50% capacity.

In Sarojini Nagar and Sadar Bazar, the local administration and police used white paint to mark shops as ‘1’ or ‘2’. All shops with the corresponding digits are allowed to open on odd or even dates.

Around 11 am in Sarojini Nagar, less than 10 customers could be seen walking past shops. Amit Singh, who owns a clothes stall, said: “We will have to wait for some time to see the impact of unlockdown. People are yet to step out freely and it is unlikely we will see a large crowd like before. Our stock also will get updated later. For now, we are selling the items we had during the lockdown. It has been a very tough year for our income and we only hope people will come out to purchase.”

Shopkeepers also felt the odd-even scheme would disincentivise people from coming to markets. “The administration and shopkeepers know which shops are odd and even, but customers do not. If they come and find the shop they wanted to visit is closed, they will not come back again and again. Some would not step out since they would be unsure which shops are open. Overall, mostly those people will come who have to buy essentials and order other items online,” said Rajan, who runs a shoe store.

Many store owners were seen unloading and arranging their goods since they did not get an opportunity to do so earlier. A group of civil defence volunteers also took rounds to check if people were wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, and if anyone was violating the numbering scheme.

Among those who visited the market was Akash (26). He said: “I have come out for the first time in weeks and it feels good… Even though the shop I wanted to visit was not open, the feeling of going out is nice. As long as we take precautions, we can start to get back to our normal lives.”

Several shops, however, remained shut as employees are yet to return from their villages. Amit, who works in a garment store, said: “Many workers went back home to UP, Bihar, Rajasthan since they did not know when shops would open. For them it was a matter of starving to death. As the announcement was made, not all of them have the money to come back in a day and they will still not risk their chances. All of these factors will also impact business.”

While most shopkeepers claimed to have received at least a single dose of vaccine, attendants and salesmen said they were unable to access a slot.

Meanwhile, in upscale Khan Market, a long queue of cars could be seen in the main parking compound. People were spotted visiting a bookstore, a shop selling sunglasses, a mobile repair shop while others walked around. But shopkeepers said that till restaurants open, the area is unlikely to witness a rush.

“A large portion of shop revenues comes from the restaurants and cafes which many people frequent. Everyone is ordering at home now, which impacts our customer base as well. In a week’s time, we will find out how many shops were closed and could not open due to lack of money. This has been a cruel lockdown,” said a mobile accessories shop owner.

A chunk of the market crowd also comprised staff from government and private offices in the vicinity that have been allowed to function with limited capacity.

Auto rickshaws were spotted outside but not many shoppers hired them. Drivers, however, said lifting of restrictions will help as they were running out of savings. “I have ferried only one passenger in the last 2-3 hours, but the situation is better as compared to the lockdown. I am confident that more and more people will come as the days go by,” said auto rickshaw driver Rakesh.

In Connaught Place, people crowded around eating joints and food stalls while families were seen walking with their children in the market corridors. Here, shops have not been painted with odd-even digits and will be closed as per their plot numbers.

Vasu Gupta of the popular Odeon Pan Shop said: “Everything comes down to wages. When people will get paid, they will want to spend on things beyond their needs. Right now, people do not have that kind of means. This entire year is going to be quite bad for this industry… We will have to survive from whatever little business comes our way.”

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