Tough recovery for Tulshibag in post lockdown inclination towards online shopping

Tulshibag is known to be one of the oldest and largest shopping markets of Pune.

Credit : Jayali Wavhal

Pune: Located in the heart of the city, Tulshibag is known to be one of the oldest and largest shopping markets of Pune. With almost 350 shops and 200 stalls, the market purveys several items like jewellery, household goods, religious articles, fashion, cosmetics, restaurants, and even lodging amongst others. Since the COVID-19 outbreak has prompted a devastating setback in the economic activities across the world, every business has felt the reverberations, especially the small businesses in Tulshibag. 

Even before the nationwide lockdown was declared on March 23rd, the market remained closed from March 16th to June 5th, causing an economic setback for the business owners here. However, last week, the market was reopened according to guidelines issued by the government, but the business hasn’t picked up yet owing to the dearth of consumers amidst this pandemic.

“According to the notice issued by the union, each side of every lane is issued with a P1 and P2 tag. Shops on either side of the lane will be operational on alternative days, thus allowing us and the consumers to practice social distancing”, said Nitin Pandit, secretary of the Tulshibag trader’s association. Moreover, every business owner has been asked to be responsible, not only for his safety but for the customers too. “We have sanitizers and extra masks to hand out to the customers who forgot to take precautions amidst this global pandemic. However, we do not get paid for the sanitizer or the masks. We expected the PMC to help us out with these supplies as we are already short on money”, said Manoj Shinde, a shopkeeper.

According to the guidelines issued by the PMC, business owners, especially those who own stalls should practice social distancing.  But since the market has very limited space, the stalls on each side of the lane are placed in proximity. Some of these stall owners do not mind the lack of physical distance and carry on with their business as usual, with regular use of masks and sanitizers. 



Shahid, a stall owner explains, “On days when P1 is to be operational, all the stalls on P1 will be set up. These stalls are not too far apart, thus not allowing us to practice social distance efficiently. Since there aren’t many customers, we step out of the stall and stand at the closed P2 side to maintain some distance. If two adjacent stalls have customers at the same time, we have to ask one of them to wait. Often the customers are impatient and leave immediately, and we lose out on the sale.”

Another guideline by the PMC stated that every business owner, according to the license, must be present at the shop or stall at all times. In case the business owner is deceased or cannot be available due to genuine reasons, a blood relative should be present. Last week, Madhav Jagtap, head of PMC’s anti-encroachment department had visited Tulshibag for supervision and noticed that the owner of Janhvi Creations, a shop on Bajirao road, wasn’t present. He confiscated their license after learning that the owner had died four months ago and the shop was being run by other workers.

 A source later clarified that the owner’s daughter was present at the shop all day but had to leave to make arrangements for lunch. “She asked a worker from the neighbouring store to keep an eye on her shop. A few minutes after she left, Jagtap Sir came to the shop, and without asking any follow-up questions, confiscated their license”, the source informed. While a friend of the owner visited Jagtap at the PMC office to explain the situation, the shop had lost its half day’s business. Licenses of ten other businesses were temporarily suspended too. The association had to write an apology letter to the PMC assuring them that such behaviour won’t be repeated. The licenses were returned shortly after.

Amidst challenges from the administration, shop owners have been facing personal problems to make ends meet. One of the shopkeepers, Vicky Jain sells utensils in his modest shop outside the infamous Ram Mandir in Tulshibag. With his shop being closed for two months, he has barely had any money to pay his rent, let alone buy groceries that will suffice for another month. 

“We are glad that the shops have re-opened but there are barely any customers who would want to step outside to buy utensils. I have not earned anything since the shops have reopened and I am currently worried about how my family of five will survive this month”, Shinde said. Since he also sells brass utensils that require regular polishing, the lockdown didn’t allow Shinde to maintain the utensils in his shop, resulting in them accumulating dust and losing their shine.

Vanita Wagh owns a small hosiery shop whose financial problems were aggravated with the recent rainfall. She says, “It rained quite heavily and we weren’t allowed to open the shops. The roof of my shop was leaking and ruined half the hosiery items in my shop. We haven’t had any sales for the last two months.  Soon, the schools will reopen and ask for fees, books, uniforms. How does one save money for the future when our only source of income has been destroyed? We are unsure about the present. We hoped for some aid from the government, but to no avail.”



Shopkeepers have also complained about the lack of precautions on the customer’s part. “Most of the customers do not wear a mask. When we offer them one, they say that they already have one, but since it is too hot, they aren’t wearing it”, says one of the shopkeepers. Moreover, if three people are shopping together but only one wants to buy something, all three enter the shop violating the basic rule of social distancing. “No matter how many times we ask them to stand in the marked boxes, or to enter the shop one at a time, they won’t listen to us. They retaliate by saying they will buy from us if we adjust a bit, else they can go to another shop. We are completely at the whim of careless customers or the administration”, says Mukund Talwade, another shopkeeper.

Customers who don’t step out to help the local businesses end up ordering essentials or other items online. Several online deliver drivers frequent the market to deliver goods to the residents. One of the shopkeepers, Ashish Mohol says, “We see fifteen to twenty delivery boys every day and question their customers. Can’t they step down and purchase things from us? This market has everything. If our local customers neglect us, how do we expect people from other parts of the city to come and purchase from us?” 

He further states that the big companies like Amazon and Flipkart have ample money to survive for the next year, unlike the small business owners. “For us, every sale means we can return to normalcy. Our children’s school fees can be taken care of, or our savings will increase, or kitchen essentials can be restocked for another month and so on. I wish people realized this and stepped out to purchase from us. After all, we are taking all the necessary precautions”, he expresses.



Nitin Pandit stated that the decision to reopen Tulshibag was to relieve some of the financial anxieties of the business owners and to create a positive environment for them. This would assure a return to normalcy, he said. Anticipating reluctance from the customers owing to the fears of visiting crowded places, arrangements were made by the association and the shopkeepers to prioritize the health and safety of everyone. 

The commercial-residential buildings of Tulshibag were sanitized with a sanitizing pump before the reopening, says Kiran Chouhan, member of the association. Moreover, the association even wrote a letter to the municipal corporation requesting weekly sanitization of the entire market, but that request has not yet been responded to. Despite all the precautions, the customer turnout has been below average, inducing more financial problems for the business owners. As stated by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, a potential lockdown extension stares down at the economic instability amongst these business owners of Tulshibag with no definite recovery soon.