How did your neighborhood grocer survive Wave 2?

As another lockdown began in Bangalore, the hustle and bustle of the entire day found itself squeezed into the four-hour window from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. This is when even the most paranoid people leave their homes to buy everything from chicken to cigarettes to masala cats. Some are surprised when asked to pay rupees. 100 for about 5 cigarettes while others sigh as they queue for beer at 7:30 am.

Read more: Will your neighborhood grocery store recover from the COVID lockdown?

My daily morning ritual was to walk to the main road, buy some newspaper and maybe a cup of coffee. I would take a Yulu Miracle in case I wake up late. Since I was particularly bad at pushing and pulling the rusty stand, the store owner would laugh and help me park.

When the closing started they started opening their store later than usual and I had to steal the newspaper from the package left outside the store. When a newspaper delivery boy asked if I wanted it delivered instead, I politely declined to state that I enjoyed my precious morning walk.

One morning there was no package. And the next morning too. After asking around, I realized that the man helping me park had tested positive and the store was closed indefinitely. I tried to ask around if he had recovered by now, but no one has a clue.

The shuttered shop. Photo credit: Juhi Jotwani

Another store that I frequent for a hot cup of coffee is run by this elderly couple – Abdul and Tahani. After telling Tahani that I was a journalist, she asked me every day if the lockdown would take place and now she asks if it will be extended. I disappoint her by revealing to her that I am just a trainee and that I have no internal knowledge of the closed meetings of the government of Karnataka.

With another COVID-19 lockdown, these small grocery stores are facing the brunt of the restrictions. For them, neither staying at home nor working from home are options.

Debts to be repaid

Faiyaz and Sakeena, who run a 34-year-old small grocery store and market gardener, are worried about the rent and repayment of the Rs 30,000 loan, borrowed during the 2020 foreclosure (only Rs 5,000 has been repaid so far). They have to make a weekly payment of Rs. 3000 in addition to the monthly rent of Rs. 15,000. Only what they earn beyond Rs. 27,000 they still have to make a living.

“We barely hit the breakeven point every month. We had Rs. 25,000 in savings last year, all of which disappeared during the lockdown. We will most likely have to take another loan of Rs. 40,000 to pay for our son’s education and to meet the expenses now that this foreclosure is underway, ”Faiyaz said. Their income has already dropped from Rs. 3000 to 4000 per day to Rs. 1000 to 2000.

Sakeena started sewing to help around the house, which is ironic as she quit her job as a garment worker five years ago to help with the store. She complains that she cannot even go out and do any garment work because the factory where she worked has closed.

Agent’s mood

Abdul Narayan D’Souza – his preferred pseudonym – runs a small shop which also sells cigarettes and paan. In the lockdown, however, people only come to his house for cigarettes and pot.

D’Souza store. Photo credit: Juhi Jotwani

Asked about the impact of the lockdown on his 4-year-old store, he said, “The mutton eaters are going to settle for dal-rice-sambar now. D’Souza says he has reduced his food expenses. Thanks to a friendly owner, he obtained a 50% exemption on the rent of his store of Rs 12,000.

Despite operating within authorized hours, D’Souza keeps an eye on the police. He’s always ready to slide his shelf in and lower the shutters. “It all depends on their mood, they tell me that such items… cigarettes and everything… are not allowed during the lockdown,” he said. He, in fact, stopped serving tea and coffee as people began to gather in groups outside his store, urging the police to be concerned.

Offline woes

Kirana stores have always opposed e-commerce on the grounds that it would make traditional stores unviable. The lockdown appears to have made these fears real for grocers. While e-commerce platforms operate all day, grocery stores are only allowed to stay open between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Store owners are concerned that customers would prefer to opt for online shopping that wakes up to the neighborhood supply store. Stores also cannot partner with an online delivery partner, as they have to close shop before 10 a.m. and that does not allow them to pack merchandise for online delivery.

Even though on May 7 order allows online delivery of essentials 24/7, it is unclear if grocery stores can do this after 10 a.m. So they close the store at 10 am, fearing a sanction or sanction from the police.

On the one hand, while there are no measures to facilitate collaboration between small grocery stores and online delivery platforms, the easing of the lockdown appears to be beneficial for large online businesses. Many of the debt-laden and rent-laden grocery stores right across from our homes may never reopen after foreclosure. “If we could be allowed to stay open only for online delivery, even that would be better than shutting down,” says Tahani.

Empty shelf in a store. Photo credit: Juhi Jotwani

B2C to B2B

A trader, Anil, stays even after 10 a.m. This is because he also has a Nandini milk stand attached to his store. As a milk seller of the Karnataka Dairy Federation, his store is allowed to operate until 8 p.m. Despite this order, Anil had to show the official circular to the police every time they told him to go out of business.

Barrier at the entrance to a shop. Photo credit: Juhi Jotwani

Interestingly, since his booth remains open even after 10 a.m., nearby traders who close at 10 a.m. drop off their unsold milk at Anil’s. It is their alternative and their adaptation to the lock restrictions. B2C stores transform into B2B in minutes.

Read more: Adapt to Survive: Stories from Workers in the Repair Economy

Anil himself opened his store six months ago, quitting his job with an airline last year. Abdul, who ran a tea stand at Banaswadi station for 11 years, had to break down because the trains stopped in the first wave. He suffered a heart attack from the stress of unemployment. It was after the recovery that he opened a grocery store, hoping that the ration business would be safe from the pandemic.

Udhyam Vyapaar, an organization that works with micro-entrepreneurs to increase their income, also saw it last year. Mehvash Arslan, a member, said: “In the case of the istriwallahs, who are not considered an essential service, they actually used the money we gave them (as a direct cash transfer) to buy and sell. vegetables, because it was an essential service. What happened with a lot of tea vendors is that they were usually positioned in technology parks or in stations where there is a lot of traffic, and all of them have closed their doors. So they lost a lot of customers. Either they had to move or they had to find other ways to make money. Many of them started selling disinfectants, masks, etc. “

Even as they try to make a living, fear of the virus looms in the background. Abdul’s words sum up the anguish of the uncertainty and vulnerability of their existence: “It is poverty that worries people more than the virus. The biggest fear is that if something happens to me, I will not be able to go to the hospital. Who will pay Rs 7-8 lakh? Even the cost of the ambulance is not less than Rs. 5000. “

(All names have been changed to preserve anonymity)

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