There used to be around Tk1,000crore business transactions per day in Chawkbazar markets, which have now come down to around Tk500 crore
The Chawkbazar markets, a popular wholesale business hub in the capital, have yet to regain momentum in trade activities though four months have gone by since the countrywide shutdown was lifted.
A large number of traders in the vicinity are said to be still struggling to survive as they are going through lacklustre sales.
Sources said some 50 thousand traders are bearing the brunt of the ramifications of the pandemic.
Prior to the epidemic striking the country, there used to be business transactions of around Tk1,000 crore per day in the Chawkbazar markets, which have now come down to around Tk500 crore, according to Babosayee Oikya Forum (BOF) in Chawkbazar.
BOF Secretary General Golam Maula said Chawkbazar is the biggest wholesale hub in the country, and there are hardly any goods which are not available there.
Historians have noted that the business centre was established in 1602, expanding into the neighbouring areas by 1702.
The Chawkbazar-centric markets include Islampur (popular for clothing), Midford (medicine and medical equipment), Nayabazar (stationery products and paper), Imamganj (crockeries), Churihatta (raw materials for plastic), Nawabpur (machinery and electronic goods), Babubazar (rice), Rahmatganj (pulses) and Syambazar (spices).
Retailers from all over the country show up here to make a large buy, according to businessmen.
Of the wholesale varieties, the stationery sector that includes writing materials, paper, envelopes and other office supplies, is the hardest hit as educational institutions remain closed. The clothing sector, toy sector, imitation ornament sector and leather goods, among others, are in a similar situation.
"Schools, colleges and universities as well as office closures are the cause of the sorry state of the stationery business," said wholesaler Abul Kashem.
Earlier, all the markets used to be buzzing with shoppers, but over the past four months, such scenes are a far cry, so said Aurangzeb Khan, joint secretary of the Monohari Banik Samity.
"Once I was so busy with customers all day long, but now, I am passing time almost idly since shoppers are few and far between," he said, adding that currently retailers from outside Dhaka rarely turn up.
According to retailers, they are not visiting Chawkbazar to buy products as their businesses have plummeted.
Sabbir Hossain, a retailer in Khilgaon Bazar, said: "Earlier, I used to bring goods from Chawkbazar every 15 days, sometimes every week, but now I am unable to do so even once a month."
Sayedul Islam, a stationery shop owner in Bhola, echoed Sabbir.
"My sales have dropped by 75% due to the pandemic and subsequent closure of educational institutions, which were my sole customers."
He said: "I used to go there twice a month before the pandemic broke out, but over the last three months I have not dared to go there."
According to Sanjeeb Debnath, a cloth retailer in Jhalokati, his sales have dropped to such a level that he is no longer thinking of paying a visit to Chawkbazar under the circumstances.
Some other retailers from different districts, including Barisal, Barguna, Kurigram and Meherpur shared similar experiences with this correspondent.
Business leader Aurangzeb apprehended that if this situation persists, Chawkbazar will lose a good number of traders.
"We have already lost a few of our customers in the last three months, and we have to close down our business in the face of such economic vulnerability."
Md Selim, secretary general of the Ornament Shop Owners' Association, maintained that the three-month shutdown has weakened the traders financially.
"We have become debtors since our earnings dropped, but not our expenses."
Even wholesalers failed to collect their arrears from their customers because of the shutdown, Selim said.
According to BOF Secretary General Golam Maula, the wholesale markets provide bread and better for around 3 lakh people while around 15-16 lakh earn a living from them indirectly.
Experts are of the opinion that people are not buying products, except in conditions of emergencies, which situation has led to a decline in demand.
They suggested ensuring a sustainability of business in the wholesale markets at this critical time.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, director of research at the Center for Policy Dialogue, said long-term loans are needed for wholesale traders, apart from a deferral of bank installments, rents, taxes and utility bills.
Traders should further be provided with funds to pay the salaries of their workers, he suggested.