Giving up the hope of making windfall profits during Ramadan, the country's atar and tupi – traditional perfume and prayer cap – traders are now fighting for survival, with a drastic fall in sales.
Traders involved in the business said the out of the blue arrival of coronavirus at the very beginning of 2020 dealt the first severe blow to the country's atar-tupi traders; and no sooner had they started recovering the losses, after corona situation started improving in the country during the end of last year, than the arrival of the second wave left them at a loss.
Industry insiders said the country's atar and prayer cap traders wait for the two Eid festivals throughout the year to bag the lion's share of their annual income, because most of the transactions of the Tk250cr perfume and prayer cap sector is made during these two biggest religious festivals of Bangladesh's majority Muslim community.
"There has been no sale for over a year. Eid is the season of perfumes and prayer caps but the buyers have vanished into thin air," said a frustrated Sirajul Islam, owner of Noor Brothers at Baitul Mukarram Market, the central hub of the country's wholesale and retail atar-tupi trade.
Sirajul told The Business Standard, "The rent of the shop is Tk25,000 per month. All the deposited money is gone. I sold products worth Tk1,250 only yesterday. It is noon today, and I have not sold anything worth a single taka."
Other traders at the market echoed Sirajul while the situation at Katabon Mosque Market, Elephant Road, Hatirpul areas were the same gloomy.
Atar-prayer cap market worth Tk250 crore
Before coronavirus entered Bangladesh, atar and prayer caps worth Tk250 crore used to be sold annually, according to the Islamic Item Traders Association.
Secretary of the association Bashir Uddin told The Business Standard that Tk100 crore annual transactions are made in the prayer cap market of the country while the perfume market is worth Tk150 crore.
"However, even before the traders recovered from last year's loss, the second wave has completely broken down the financial backbone of the traders," he observed.
Wholesale sales halved after corona's arrival
The wholesale markets of perfumes and prayer hats are Khaddar Market and Chawkbazar Market in the capital. Just at the beginning of this year's Ramadan, when it was time for lucrative wholesale sales, the government imposed a strict all-out lockdown to contain the alarmingly increasing infections of the virus, brought forth along with the second wave of the pandemic in the country.
As a result, the expected wholesale business did not happen at all.
The second floor of Khaddar Bazar Shopping Complex is the wholesale market of perfume and prayer caps.
Perfume and prayer caps are sold at RBS Enterprise in this market. Wholesale price of prayer caps ranges from Tk5 to Tk1,000.
A 6ml bottle of perfume costs Tk52 while the highest price of a 25ml bottle of perfume is Tk16,000.
Abu Taher, a seller at the Al-Rumi Caps and Perfume Centre in Khaddar Market, said there was no sale. The public transport is closed; how retailers from across the country would come to buy products.
Chawkbazar Tupi-Atar Dokan Malik Samity Secretary Md Amir said people rarely leave their homes due to the ongoing lockdown; so, there is no trade in the whole country.
"And if there is less demand in the whole country, the sale would surely be less. We sell perfume and prayer caps here at wholesale prices. Retailers from outside the capital are not being able to come to Dhaka due to the closure of public transport. They used to come here from far flung parts of the country to buy products here. But they cannot come now," he added.
Prayer caps are sold at the Burka Gallery next to the Katabon Mosque. The shopkeeper, Parvez, said a prayer cap has been sold in the last two days.
Footpath sales are also low
Like in the shopping malls, sales of atar-tupi on the capital's footpaths are also low. Comparing to the time before the pandemic, sales of the two products of Muslim devotees during Eid festival have decreased by around 90%.
Md Abdul Khaleq sells perfume and prayer caps on the pavement adjacent to the north gate of Baitul Mukarram Mosque. It was midday when this correspondent talked to him. Opening his makeshift stall in the morning, he could not sell a single penny in 3/4 hours.
"I have been doing this business for the last 30 years. I sold products worth only Tk40 yesterday. So far, there is no sale today," he said.
Md Ilias has been selling prayer caps on the sidewalk of Bir Uttam CR Dutt Road at Hatirpul in the capital for 15 years
He said, "Before the pandemic, I used to sell products worth around Tk5,000 on the first day of Ramadan. After that, the sale used to be around Tk2,000 to Tk3,000 per day during the rest of Ramadan. This year, the average daily sale is worth Tk5-Tk6."