Shopkeepers at Bhrikutimandap rue lack of business despite easing of lockdownOther shopping destinations in Kathmandu are also seeing fewer customers, say traders.
Dipak Dahal owns a clothes shop in Bhrikutimandap Khula Bazaar, and he is worried by the slow business since the market emerged from a three-month-long lockdown on June 29.
“The festival season is approaching, and this used to be the best time for us to sell clothes; but these days the stores here receive very few customers daily,” said the 31-year-old shopkeeper.
“The Social Welfare Council, which owns the premises, has specified that the required safety precautions should be followed. Customers and shopkeepers both must compulsorily wear masks, the temperature of visitors must be checked before entry and records of visitors must be kept. But footfall is far less than expected,” said another shop owner Rudra Bahadur Khadka.
“With almost no customers, we are having a hard time paying the rent,” said Khadka.
Not only Bhrikutimandap, other shopping destinations in Kathmandu like Asan bazaar and the New Road area are also seeing fewer customers, say traders.
Krishna Prasad Koirala said he used to sell clothes worth Rs10,000 daily from his shop in Asan during this time in the past.
"Nowadays, we barely earn Rs1,000 in a day due to fewer customers," said the 29-year-old merchant. “I would have shuttered the shop and stayed at home if I didn't have to pay rent,” said Koirala.
Apparel traders like Dahal, Khadka and Koirala are going through tough times with rents rising and business dwindling. Some shop owners have started shutting down after not being able to pay the rent.
Meera Kaphle, who used to buy a red saree for Teej every year, is not buying anything for the festival this year. The 37-year-old school teacher from Thankot plans to wear an old saree she has in her wardrobe this year.
“I used to go to Makhan Tol, New Road to buy sarees, but I am afraid to wander around on the streets because of Covid-19. Also, buying clothes is not that important in a situation like this,” she said.
Readymade garment imports also plunged by 24.5 percent year-on-year after the government imposed a nationwide lockdown from March 24 in the middle of the peak season for apparel importers.
According to the Trade and Export Promotion Centre, the country imported apparels and accessories worth Rs24 billion in the last fiscal year 2019-20, a sharp decline compared to the previous fiscal year when imports hit Rs31.82 billion.
Garment traders stock up on inventory from mid-April to mid-July in preparation for the Dashain and Tihar shopping spree. But this year due to the lockdown in the country, this did not happen. Observing the fewer number of customers in the market, clothing traders are worried about Dashain sales.
Bachhu Poudel, president of the Nepal Trans-Himalayan Border Commerce Association, said that sales are expected to drop with people spending less on unnecessary goods.
“People are more concerned about buying daily consumable goods than buying clothes, so clothing sales are likely to fall this year compared to the previous year,” he said.
“The movement of people around New Road, Mahabauddha and Asan, which are major shopping hubs, is less,” he said. It seems people fear to come out of their homes to shop, he added.
Nearly 80 percent of the readymade garments sold in the Kathmandu Valley are imported from China. The rest come from India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. Imports from these countries have fallen to almost zero as the shipments come by air cargo, he said.
Bharat Karki, secretary of the association, said that imported clothes account for around 70 percent of the Nepali readymade garment market as there is little domestic production.
Only two-three container trucks from China are being allowed to enter the country over the Kerung-Rasuwa route daily, he said, adding that it had been six months since goods stopped coming due to the virus outbreak in the northern neighbour.
Karki said that shipments of readymade clothes and other goods stopped arriving in Nepal since December with containers stranded at the northern border points. The containers stuck at Kolkata port began entering Nepal through Birgunj after the lockdown was eased.
Karki, whose firm New Shuvam Enterprises also imports clothes, said that demand for apparels from different parts of the country had fallen as retailers have piles of unsold stocks.
According to Poudel, around 60-70 containers entered Nepal from Kerung in the past one month after lockdown restrictions were relaxed.
By this time of the year in the past, importers would be dispatching merchandise to suppliers across the country. Importers would also be bringing jackets and thermal wear intended for the winter season, said Poudel.
He added that, in previous years, around 2,000 containers loaded with clothes used to arrive from China in the last three months for the Dashain festival. As the stay-at-home order has been relaxed, Poudel says he expects around 200 containers containing clothes to arrive till Dashain.
"This is not the time to spend money on buying unnecessary goods like clothes with the coronavirus spreading among so many people," said teacher Kaphle, who has not received her salary as the school has remained closed since the lockdown. “One should save money considering the uncertainty caused by the virus,” she said.