For the Chattogram-based fashion brand Shoilpik, the last one year was a nightmare as the business incurred at least Tk15 crore in losses during Pohela Boishakh and two Eids amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As the infection kept falling until February, 2021, the apparel trader, with 36 showrooms across the country, started turning around, hoping for business recovery to ride on this year's Boishakh and Eid sales.
But the ongoing lockdown to contain resurgent Covid cases has jeopardised that hope as the Bangla New Year sales have already gone.
"If the situation persists, a loss of another Tk20 crore will be added to last year's business loss," said Shoilpik Managing Director HM Elias.
Like him, around 60,000 apparel traders in the port city and Chattogram district are now bracing for another gloomy season at the upcoming Eid – a festival which is a life blood for the business. If the lockdown continues in the forthcoming Ramadan beginning on 14 April, they said many businessmen would not be able to reopen their shops ever.
Eid shopping in Chattogram starts at least one week before the holy month for Muslims. Moreover, businessmen this year had made preparations for Boishakh sales just before Ramadan. Shop owners in different markets of the city, boutique houses, fashion brands and even hawkers stocked colourful fabrics for the two occasions.
But the country went into a full lockdown for a week from Monday.
Syed Khurshid Alam, general secretary of the Bangladesh Shop Owners Association Chattogram district chapter, said traders have already been in the soup owing to losses in the last one year. If the lockdown continues in Ramadan, many businessmen will not ever be able to reopen shops.
"We held a meeting on Sunday. The businessmen urged the government to allow shopping malls and markets to operate through having them follow health safety measures," he added.
Shoilpik Managing Director HM Elias said the government emphasised value-added tax collection from us, but does not have any guidelines on how the businessmen would sustain their business.
"If the showrooms remain closed this Ramadan too, we will have no alternative but close business. The government should issue instructions on keeping shops open through maintaining health-related measures," he added.
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the turnover of Eid-centric sales in the port city is around Tk37,000 crore every year. Losses will be irreplaceable if traders face a virus-led market closure like the last year.
Md Miron Hossain Milon, president of Chattogram Hawkers' Federation, said there are at least 22,000 hawkers in the port city. Of them, 15,000 hawkers sell clothes, shoes and cosmetics. A hawker sells products worth an average of Tk8 lakh during Eid.
In 2021, Milon added, they had expected to ride out last year's losses. But the rising infection rate is worrying them the most.
According to the Chattogram Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, there are 2,500 fashion and boutique houses in the port city. Of these, 1,000 entities make garments in their own factories.
Rebeka Nasreen, director of the Chattogram Women's Chamber, said women entrepreneurs are also concerned over the lockdown owing to the spike in virus cases. ***