CHENNAI: It hasn’t even been a year since they were shifted from the pavement to the complex. But one after the other, traders are moving out of the Pondy Bazaar Hawkers’ Complex owing to poor patronage.
The relocation of the vendors took place in November 2013, as part of a drive to decongest Pondy Bazaar and make space for pedestrians. On Monday, yet another shop pulled down its shutters leaving just four shops on the third floor. Tameem Ansari, the owner of one of the remaining shops is planning to leave the complex too. “We have no business here,” he says wearily. His face lights up as a customer comes to look at the clothes in his shop but she moves away. “Hardly anyone turns up on the third floor. I have no choice but to move out,” he laments.
Business has never been this bad, “I make only around 50-60 per cent of what I used to make outside,” says Raja Mohammed, a toy shop owner. He has been in the profession for 23 years now and has a surprising story to say. “Children who once bought toy equipment sets from my shop have turned doctors now,” he says, indicating how long he has been in the business.
However, the design of the complex and allocation by the drawing lots have left some unlucky vendors like Raja and Tameem in obscure corners. The poor ventilation and stark lack of windows have only added to this. The design flaws are several – narrow and dark aisles, out-of-service lifts and no safety measures in cases such as that of fire or building collapse. “We are even afraid to drill nails as the walls have proven to be very weak,” Tameem remarks.
After the vendors in Usman Road went to court against being evicted, they too have been allotted shops at this complex, but are yet to move in. Many of the vendors are bitter about the allocation of shops to the Usman road vendors, some of whom have even rented the shops out.
”If the vendors from this street alone had been allocated the shops in the complex, then all of us would have been doing business either on the first or the second floor, thereby, making good money,” says Kaja Mohideen, the union representative of one of the Pondy Bazaar Therukadai Vyabarigal Sangam.
The Chennai Corporation says that they are working on the problem. “The ground floor was supposed to be only for the vegetable and flower vendors, but some of them have started selling other goods, which is affecting the business of the people upstairs. We are working on this. We have also identified the shops that have been rented out and are going to clear those out,” an official says.
“I have never visited the complex though I used to shop at the pavement shops regularly; the new complex does not have the charm of an open space. And we would use the pavement shops for casual buying as we pass by, not something I would go searching for in a complex,” says Ranjani Srinivasan, a resident of Chennai.
But Mohammad Gani, a bangle shop owner is hopeful, saying everything needs patience. “We cannot expect a baby to start walking in a day. If we wait longer, it may get better,” he says optimistically.
“But I would still move back out the minute I get a chance,” Gani says. “The outside was far better. Watching the passers-by on the road and munching on a snack, we never felt the heat. The only problem was during the rains, but in Chennai it only rains two months and the remaining ten, we made good sales,” he adds. Until then, it’s business inside the complex, but not quite as usual.