Sunday, March 07, 2021

Businesses in Little India hit hard by Covid-19 pandemic

Aug 31. 2020
Shuttered shops along Upper Dickson Road in Little India on Aug 30, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Shuttered shops along Upper Dickson Road in Little India on Aug 30, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
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By Hariz Baharudin
The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE - One by one, nine establishments around Mr K. Ramamoorthy's Internet cafe at Upper Dickson Road have shuttered, and he fears his might be next.

These shops - a mix of businesses such as money changers and textile shops - could not cope with the lack of customers due to Covid-19, said the 75-year-old.

His own business at Antech Internet Cafe has plunged by 90 per cent.

"What can I do? We are almost going to have to close soon, because there are no tourists or foreign workers to pay us," said Mr Ramamoorthy, whose cafe also provides document processing and scanning services.

Singapore's borders remain largely shut to external arrivals, with the exception of a few countries. And most migrant workers at dormitories remain confined to their quarters outside of going to work, due to measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

This has been bad news for Little India, where establishments rely heavily on these two groups to keep going.

When ST visited the area on Sunday (Aug 30) afternoon, there was a notable lack of crowds, with staff outnumbering customers in some restaurants.

Weekends are typically when Little India is most bustling, but shopkeepers said the lively atmosphere that was characteristic of the area has disappeared.

A shop attendant at a jewellery shop along Serangoon Road said the situation is especially bad on weekdays, where customers have become "a rare sight".

"It is so quiet nowadays, it feels like it is a completely different place. I have never seen anything like this," she said.

In a bid to entice customers, Mr Rohit Behera, manager of popular restaurant Madras New Woodlands at Upper Dickson Road, said he and his team have rolled out as many measures as possible to ensure diners feel safe.

Mr Behera said his restaurant has seen a 50 per cent drop in business compared to pre-Covid-19 times, but he hopes that the safety measures will draw customers back.

"If they see that our place is safe to eat, they will eat here again, and we can survive even though there are not many tourists here anymore," he said.

In May, the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) set up a task force to help businesses in Little India affected by Covid-19.

On its Facebook page, the SICCI said that it held a walkabout in the area on Saturday and plans to reach out to about 300 businesses by the end of September to spread the word about the various schemes and support measures they can tap on.

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