VIJAYAWADA/VIZAG/TIRUPATI/KAKINADA: Woes of small businessmen and street vendors across Andhra Pradesh continue even now despite relaxations given during partial curfew imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. One of the worst-affected during the first wave and the ensuing lockdown, this section of society continues to suffer as its very survival is in limbo due to minimal business transactions in the past few months. After suffering heavy losses and dip in business activities last year, the traders were hoping for a recovery as the infection spread had slowed considerably in February. But their hopes came crashing down when the virulent spread picked up pace in late March and touched its peak in May.
Several had taken loans to make ends meet following losses and even closed businesses, in many instances, after the first wave. The loans were also meant to keep their businesses floating. However, they are pushed into a financial predicament as they not only have to think of ways to keep their businesses running, but also to clear the mounting debts. Sk Khajavali, who has been making a living by selling sunglasses in Vijayawada for the last 10 years, says he struggles to make even Rs 500 a day now. “Before the pandemic, I used to earn Rs 4,000-5,000 per day. My business took the worst hit when a lockdown was announced. Though it seemed like it is going to be alright in 2021, my business dipped to the lowest point in the second wave.”
As the 46-year-old took loans worth Rs 2 lakh from money lenders, he now has to part with Rs 10,000 per month as interest alone to repay the debt. Though he applied for Jaganna Thodu, he failed to get the benefit from the government. Today, Khajavalli sells sunglasses he gets from Chennai and Delhi for Rs 99 though their costs have increased by Rs 10 apiece. K Sambasiva Rao (38) owns a footwear shop near BRTS Road in Vijayawada. “Months between March and June are hectic for small businesses due to festive occasions, and as students prepare for a new academic year,” he says and adds his daily earning has come down from Rs 3,500 to Rs 500. Even paying Rs 6,000 as monthly rent for his shop is proving difficult.
Though curfew relaxation hours were increased till 6 pm, they are no help to this traders as most of his customers prefer shopping in the evenings. He is wary of increasing the prices of the products out of fear of losing his business totally. In Visakhapatnam, small-time retailers and street vendors complain that their income generation has come down by 70 per cent. Narayana, a barber shop owner in Maddilapalem has suffered heavy losses, especially because he had to shut down the shop in May for over 20 days when the second wave peaked. Even with the relaxations, he gets little to no customers.
Before the lockdown, Narayana says he earned Rs 50,000-Rs 60,000 a month. With almost no income in May, he thinks his June income will barely touch Rs 20,000--out of which Rs 15,000 will be spent on rent. Many owners of small establishments feel that they won’t survive another lockdown, another wave of the virus. R Murali, a novelty shop owner in Vizag’s Narasimha Nagar, says: “Even though the relaxation is till 6 pm now, the business won’t pick up. Most customers only come in evenings.” A Rafiq, a kirana store owner, feels he may not be able to keep running his business if he incurs the same losses in the third wave.
Twenty-eight-year-old Muniraja, owner of a roadside eatery on DR Mahal Road in Tirupati, says the second spell of Covid dealt a severe blow to his business. “Businesses in the temple town are largely dependent on pilgrims. Traders make money when the city is frequented by devotees. Before the pandemic, I used to earn Rs 1500 daily on average, which has taken a hit to Rs 600-800.” B Nagaraju in Kakinada, who ekes out a living by supplying construction equipment on rental basis, says the decrease in construction activities during the second wave spelt doom for a business like his. “With no income, supporting a family of six is very difficult.”