Even street vendors are starting to feel the pinch from the coronavirus
At around 1pm on Friday – usually a busy weekend in Bangladesh – almost all tables at the food court on the eighth floor of the Bashundhara City shopping mall were seen empty.
From clothing to footwear stores, there was no hustle or bustle; a scene which shopkeepers and salespersons have never seen in this upscale mall.
If the situation prolongs, some 15,000 staff employed in 1,450 shops of the mall may lose their jobs.
Along with Bashundhara City, Eastern Plaza, Jamuna Future Park and malls in Gulshan and Banani also looked deserted due to the coronavirus that has spread to around 200 countries, including Bangladesh.
Our correspondent in Chattogram, the second biggest city in the country, also witnessed a similar scenario.
People engaged in the business are unsure of when the situation will improve and normalcy will return to their lives.
Sajol Kannti, in-charge of eatery Tongue and Tummy at the food court of Dhaka's Bashundhara City, said they have been facing a severe shortage of customers since March 8 when the government officially confirmed the first cases of coronavirus in Bangladesh.
"We had no business in the last two days. But we have to pay our utility bills and salaries of 20 employees," said a frustrated Sajol.
It is better to close the outlets, at least temporarily, rather than running them without sales, he added.
Antik Ahmed, branch manager of the Bashundhara City outlet of fashion and lifestyle brand Ecstasy, said it seems people are too afraid of the coronavirus to shop.
None of the clothing shops at the mall had any buyers.
Yet, MA Hannan, president of the Shop Owners' Association at the mall, does not want the market to close.
"We want to keep our shops open and give our staff whatever we earn from the sales," he said.
Shamim Hossain, Shahjadpur outlet manager of Orion Footwear, said sales from their branch fell significantly in a week.
Proprietor of Baraka Incorporation at the Gulshan-1 DCC Market Ashraful Amin Arzu echoed the same opinion as his outlet that would previously remain full of customers on normal days now looks deserted.
"Today [Friday], I did not get any customers between 9am and 2:30pm. It is very unusual," said Md Shoel Mia, proprietor of Shakhor and Sheeshir Garment at the Nurjahan Market, located on Mirpur Road.
"We usually have a lot of customers at this market on Fridays," he added.
But on Friday, there were 10-15 customers on the ground floor of Nurjahan Market which is well known for their export-quality fashion items.
Even street vendors are starting to feel the pinch from the coronavirus.
Maruf Hossain, who sells inexpensive footwear on the footpath of Mirpur Road, did not get any customers till 2:45pm on Friday – an unexpected scenario to him as he had sold sandals worth Tk4,200 a day before.
The situation for small businesses is just as bad in Chattogram, with people fearing job losses.
On Wednesday, The Business Standard found 10 employees of Puthighar Stationary at Anderkilla in Chattogram sitting idle as there were no customers in the shop.
Mohammad Erfan, proprietor of the wholesale shop, said from 10am to 2pm on Wednesday, they had sold goods worth only Tk1,000. By this time, sales would usually shoot up to around Tk200,000 on a normal day.
Shamim Sheikh, another shopkeeper at Anderkilla, said their business depends on China for imports.
All 20 staff members at the Chittagong Accessories shop of Dewanhat area fear losing their jobs as sales have declined in the last two months.
"I have some bank loans, and every month I have to pay instalments. If this continues, it will result in a disaster for me. I do not know how I will repay the bank loans," said Jahir Uddin, owner of the shop.
According to GA Bhaban Businessmen Welfare Association, there are around 500 shops where some 3,000 people work.
"Sales have dropped by 80 percent here. We are on the verge of bankruptcy," said Mohammad Iqbal Uddin Chowdhury, president of the association.
Ahmed Sharif Md Monir, former general secretary of Jahur Hawkers market, said around 900 traders of the market are fighting to survive now.