KOCHI: A popular city mall’s recent ‘Midnight Sale’ witnessed stampede-like scenes. Visuals of massive crowds, including women and children, thronging the shopping centre to pick up goods sold at a 50% discount stirred social media. “Coronavirus would have gotten squished!” read a quip.
Some described the sale as Kerala’s ‘Black Friday’, others chuckled away at the memes that followed.
But the larger question the discussions left behind was on the scope of transforming Kochi into a metropolitan that never sleeps.
Are we ready?
Kochi’s traditional shopping hubs — MG Road and Broadway — go to sleep by 10pm. Initiatives such as ‘Cochin Night Shopping’ fest to liven up the after-dark hours had initially drawn a bustling crowd but failed to sustain enthusiasm.
“If nightlife shopping has to work, a shift system for staff has to be implemented. But this would mean the employer would have to hire more workers,” says Ernakulam Market Stall Owners’ Association president C J George.
“Also, owners would have to provide transportation facilities to female staff. Additional electricity charges are another issue. At a time when footfall isn’t great even during the daytime, additional expenses would make it difficult for shop owners.” Most private bus operators in the city call it a day by about 9pm, and the Metro service shuts by 10:30pm, notes George.
“Considering the culture of the majority population, people don’t seem to be keen to step out at night,” he adds. “Also, nowadays, retail sales have been dropping, as an increasing number of people prefer to shop online. Supermarkets and malls, too, have hit brick-and-mortar outlets. We are willing to open stores late at night, but will there be enough customers?”
Tommy Joseph, collection manager of Goodwill stores at Convent Junction, says keeping shops open at night would be a “waste of time and electricity”. “We had kept our shop open till 11pm during festive times, but the response was not great,” he says. “Those who intend to purchase would come by 8pm. The rest are those who want to just roam or hang out.”
Former president of the Kerala Merchants Chamber of Commerce, G Karthikeyan, says night shopping experiments in the past had failed. “We even made a deal with the bus owners’ association to extend their services. But since the footfall was low, we had to call it off,” he says. Current Chamber of Commerce president K M Mohamed Sageer agrees. He also points to the issue of lack of transportation and parking facilities.
“Besides malls, does the city have provisions for safe parking at night? Take the case of the CSML’s plan of setting up multi-level car parking at Kacherippady. It is still in limbo,” he says. “Currently, only some restaurants stay active at night.” Sageer, however, adds that night shopping over weekends would be a good idea to start with, provided there is support from the administration.
‘Couple of days every month’
Greater Cochin Development Watch member and lawyer Ebenser Chullikkatt says Kochi cannot be compared with other metropolitan cities. “Majority of our workforce does 9-to-5 jobs. Night shopping would not attract them,” he adds. “For those who work odd shifts, the idea would be appealing. But they account for a small per cent of the population. In other cities, you would find more people working late into the night, so nightlife is a necessity there.”
A large section of Kochi, he believes, goes into the ‘slumber stage’ past 8:30pm. “Nightlife is opted by those who have more spending power. And their demands would be on the luxury side. They would account for just 10 per cent of the population. Considering the work routine and pay scale of the majority, the city is not yet ready for buzzing nightlife,” says Ebenser.
“Moreover, basic transport facilities are close to nil at night. Even if a system is arranged, the cost involved would be high. It is not feasible for the service providers to operate for a small crowd.”
However, occasional ‘night plans’ might be a good idea, Ebenser suggests. “Though not practical throughout the year, the idea might click if implemented for a couple of days every month.”
Techie night owls
Buzz over the government allowing more pubs, especially for the IT sector, had brought some cheer to those who do not prefer to go gentle into that good night. Night owls say the 11pm deadline is a dampener, and seek more chills and thrills late into the night. “Nightlife is almost non-existent in Kochi,” says Robin Alex Panicker, co-founder of Finnotes and venture partner at Unicorn India Ventures. “From a business point of view, it is a downer, especially when investors or clients visit our city. Nightlife is a culture that evolves over time. It is up to the government whether to encourage it or not.”
For a sector like IT, a socialising ecosystem is essential, he adds. “There should be more pubs, breweries. What our society lacks is the idea of social drinking. There should be a solid plan. Selecting a few stretches and initiating nightlife activities would be the ideal way,” says Robin.
Another techie, Hareesh Vijayan, concurs. “Earlier initiatives to boost night shopping were a positive start. The government should restart and sustain them,” he says. “Also, the city certainly needs more places for stressed out people to relax, unwind.” Though Kakkanad is an IT hub, the nightlife is drab, adds Hareesh. “Only some eateries are open at night. The transportation system, too, is pathetic,” he says.
What the rule book says
According to the labour department, a shop can function for 24 hours only if the Shop and Commercial Establishment Act is relaxed, which is usually done during the festival seasons. “Minimum of three staffers should be there to work on a shift basis; one employee shouldn’t work more than eight hours. Special permission has to be sought in case of opening after 10pm,” says a labour department official.