Ahead of festivities, it’s brisk business for a few traders
Ahmedabad’s CG Road footwear market is witnessing higher footfall this Navratri. In fact, if the Navratri shopping is any indication, then Diwali could be much better, observes veteran Vasant Tirodkar, pointing to premium branded products flying off the shelf.
Vendors at the nearby Law Garden Chaniya Choli street market are also flooded with shoppers. Despite high prices, shopper Payal Desai has purchased traditional wear and jewellery. “It has been two years since we last enjoyed garba,” she says.
Sensing revival, Kolkata-based cosmetics and stationery retailer Aloke Ghosh has been stocking up on inventory since August. Borrowing ₹50,000 from an acquaintance, he rehired (albeit at lower salary) two helpers who were laid off last year under financial duress due to Covid.
“If business is brisk like this, I will definitely be able to repay the loan amount in six months,” he says, hopeful of profits by the year-end. He, too, points to premium (haircare) products being in demand.
Feet are back on the street as Navratri and Durga Puja celebrations peak next week in Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal.
The heightened sentiment among customers and trade is bolstered by increased vaccination and reduced Covid cases.
In Maharastra’s Shirdi town, the economy revolves around the Sai temple. Devotees come from India and overseas round the year. And lodging, transport, restaurants, fruit and flower market, vendors, small businesses depend heavily on tourists visiting the temple. Tourism had come to a standstill in the last few months, but with the State opening temples the massive crowds are back.
In Kolhapur and Tuljapur, too, devotees crowd temples during Navratri – the main festival in these temple towns. And local businessmen who depend on the temple economy are heaving a sigh of relief as temples reopen.
The enhanced leisure and non-essential luxury purchases reflect consumer confidence of a more sustained income, say traders. But the spirited crowds thronging the malls are, however, not seen in shops patronised by middle-income shoppers, reflecting reduced or loss of income.
Jayendra Tanna, President of the All-India Vyapar Mandal, says the trade is pleasantly surprised as unsold stocks were quickly clearing up, and new orders piling up at wholesalers. “Increased consumer buying and improved finance facilities are a big boost in this festival…Liquidity concerns are over and cashflows are getting regular. We will be at about 80 percent of a normal year now,” he says.
But Ahmedbad-based businessman Nitin Shah says the middle class was struggling economically even before the pandemic, and the outbreak of the infection has only added to their woes. “There was loss of income, loss of pay, loss of jobs and business… spending capacities were impacted, and we clearly see that an uptake in mid-segment items is not as good as seen in the high-end items, which is usually consumed by high-income groups.”
Toned down celebrations
Garba organisers, artists, orchestra players, decorators, caterers and sound suppliers will have to watch toned-down celebrations from a distance. A business of over ₹20,000-25,000 crore for nine nights is drawing a blank for the second year in a row in Gujarat.
At Kolkata’s artisan hub Kumartuli, potter Indrajit Pal says orders are down about 40 per cent. Tightened purse-strings are seeing less advance payments and regular customers opting for cheaper / low-cost alternatives, putting price over the status’ symbol of getting idols made by Kumartuli artisans, a legacy that has its origins in the 17th century.
(With inputs from Radheshyam Jadhav in Pune)