COVID-19 effect: Street shopping destinations shut, owners struggle for livelihood

Mumbai: Even as shopping malls and markets in the city have re-opened under the state's 'Mission Begin again' campaign, two of the most popular street shopping destinations of South Mumbai among foreign tourists – Colaba Causeway Market in Colaba and Fashion Street in Fort, bear a deserted look.

Known as two of the city’s must-visit places and a haven for bargain hunters before the pandemic hit the city, stall owners now find it difficult to survive due to the pandemic induced lockdown. Shut since March 2020, Owners and those who manned these stalls are now struggling for livelihood, claiming that the loss incurred will take over a year for them to recover.

Licensed stalls in Bandra's Linking Road and Hill Road and even Wadala markets have been allowed to re-open from July 5. However, despite repeated requests and representations made by the Fashion Street Shopkeepers Association and Stall owners of Colaba Causeway to open their stalls while adhering to safety protocols and precautions, they were not allowed to re-open. There is no clarity on when hawkers can reopen their stalls.

In desperation, when some of the hawkers tried opening the shop implementing the odd-even rule imposed on other shops, putting a few garments on display, they were allegedly fined.

Vijay Shetty, President of the Fashion Street Shopkeepers Association and few others made a representation before the A ward officials once again two weeks ago requesting them to allow their shops to re-open, however, BMC has not allowed them yet.

Abhishek Singh owner of stall no. 77 at Fashion Street said: "We understand the risk and how serious the circumstances have become. But now that the shops and malls have opened up, why is the civic body not allowing us to reopen? I have heard they will let us reopen starting September 15, however, this still lacks clarity."

Fashion Street, a cluster of 398 shops was created in the 1990s after hawkers from adjoining areas like CSMT, Churchgate, Metro and those from outside the CSMVS (Prince of Wales Museum) were moved to one single location on MG Road, opposite the Bombay Gymkhana. Meanwhile, Colaba Causeway, which was built in 1838, is one of the early reclamation projects in this city conjured up from the sea. The broad strip of land was created to connect Colaba and Old Woman’s Island to the larger, H-shaped island of Bombay. Today the strip has 400 odd hawkers, of which only 187 have been authorised by the BMC in January this year.

Shetty says Fashion Street’s complete shutdown has left over a thousand families penniless. “Every stall owner has two employees, that’s three families per stall," he said.

Meanwhile, shops/ showrooms which have been allowed to reopen in Colaba have suffered losses to tune of 85 to 90 per cent in the last five-six months and their ordeal just doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon with no foreign tourists flocking the markets.

Arun Kumar, owner of Akbar Plaza, a clothing store, lamented " All my savings were spent during the five months lockdown. I am now struggling to buy fresh stock. I had to let go of three of my employees as I was unable to pay them."

Ambalal Jain's 'Silver Palace' is a silver jewellery shop. Indian style silver jewellery are in demand among foreign tourists and expatriate Indians. "Fifty per cent of our customers are foreign tourists. But at present, my business has been less than 10 per cent and it is declining even further," said Jain

Assistant Municipal Commissioner of A Ward (Churchgate,Fort, Colaba) , Chanda Jadhav told Free Press Journal, "We have not allowed the hawkers/ stalls to reopen business as of now in either of the two markets, these are congested places and we have to keep many things in mind before allowing them. The License department will be taking a call on the issue.

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Free Press Journal