Once bustling commercial stretches, the roads are devoid of activity despite shops being open for more than two weeks.

usually bustling church street is empty
Coronavirus Coronavirus Tuesday, May 19, 2020 - 17:18

In Bengaluru, the once-lively Brigade Road, where one would hardly have had space to walk on the pavement just a few months ago, is now devoid of foot traffic. Church Street, one of Bengaluru’s most commercially-vibrant stretches lined with bars, restaurants and shops, wears a ghostly look.

Several shops, including branded shoe and clothing stores, have been open to customers since earlier this month, but the city’s iconic streets remain almost completely deserted, a rare and spooky sight for Bengaluru residents.

Though some city dwellers have been venturing out to shops in recent days, it’s a far cry from the crowds that previously occupied these stores. And while pedestrians once jostled for space on the pavement, people now gingerly step aside as they approach each other.

Shops are encouraging customers to return, while also maintaining minimum safety measures, such as wearing masks and physical distancing. But on a recent Monday, the only shop with a small queue of customers outside was the OnePlus mobile showroom.

Others remained nearly empty, though many have been open for more than two weeks. The Levi’s showroom, which once played music to attract customers, posted a sign that read, “Our store is clean.” Those who were entering the Puma store were checked for their temperature and were given hand sanitiser.

Cauvery Emporium, the state government’s well-known handicrafts enterprise located at the corner of MG Road and Brigade Road, will open its doors on Wednesday. However, without tourists to rely on, foot traffic is expected to be low. “We cannot expect a lot of people to come. There will be a dip in sales,” said manager Mainakamandal. However, he is anticipating increased sales for home items like agarbathis and sandalwood products.

The popular hotspot Church Street was recently revamped to be made pedestrian-friendly, not unlike internationally-famous hubs like Singapore’s Orchard Street. But the street showed no sign of life, almost as if the city had forgotten about it. There were no students walking together in bunches, people thronging at cigarette shops or music emanating from the stores. Instead, the only movement was the trash that drifted on the sides of the road and the occasional two-wheeler driving past.

The MG Road metro station was shut tight, and a group of boys lingered to pose for photographs in a spot where once you wouldn’t have been able to stand for more than a few minutes. At the People clothing store, dismantled mannequins were strewn behind the locked glass doors.

 

Bookstores on Church Street like Blossom’s, Bookworm and Goobe’s were all open, but they were seeing only a handful of walk-in customers. Most of their orders were being placed on the phone or through their websites.

Mayi Gowda, the owner of Blossom's bookstore, said that they have been open from May 1 onwards. 

"While there weren't many walk-in customers, we have received a number of orders on the phone. Previously, we used to offer delivery of books by courier but that takes 2-3 days. But now we have Dunzo, and when we receive an order, we keep the parcel ready and the person can get their books in half an hour. It works out great for both us and our customers."

Shahram Janahi, store manager at Goobe's book republic, says, "We have very few walk-in customers, but are accepting orders on Instamojo and on Dunzo as well. We have a curated section of books which we feel would interest our audiences, and those are easily available on our website. Besides this, we also take orders for books, which we can source and send in when we can."

Still, businesses across the country are struggling to get back on their feet after the lockdown-mandated closure of non-essential retail stores. One employee at a bookstore disclosed that only half the salary had been paid last month.

And though Lockdown 4.0 has significantly reduced restrictions, particularly for the commercial sector, some residents remain wary of going back to their normal routines outside their homes.

Rijul Ballal, a resident of the city and frequenter of Church Street, says that he hasn’t even considered stepping out. “I am still in the lockdown mentality, and I don’t feel safe stepping out. I am keeping busy with work, and I don’t expect that I will be leaving home for the next two months at least.”

Read: What public transportation in Bengaluru could look like in a post-COVID world


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