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People at the Select Citywalk mall in New Delhi
People at the Select Citywalk mall in New Delhi

Caution is key as India reopens for business after over two months

  • As malls, restaurants and offices reopen after more than two months, office-goers and shoppers come to terms with huge traffic jams and new norms
  • Retailers are looking to re-negotiate rent deals with mall developers across the country before they open stores

NEW DELHI : India tentatively reopened its shopping malls, restaurants and offices on Monday amid a surge in coronavirus cases and a dizzying set of rules aimed at preventing infections that left shoppers and office-goers bewildered.

An elaborate set of drills, including a walk through a disinfection tunnel, other intricate sanitization protocols and staff who wore face shields, greeted the few shoppers who visited malls in New Delhi as they reopened.

Mumbai, where malls will remain shut till 30 June, saw huge traffic jams on both Western and Eastern Express Highways as all private offices were permitted to reopen with up to 10% staff strength from 8 June. Thousands of office goers took off for work in their cars and motorcycles as public transport remained restricted.

People walk along Marine Drive in Mumbai
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People walk along Marine Drive in Mumbai

India is reopening for business after more than two months of a near-total shutdown that has left its companies battered. Mall operators and retailers have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. The reopening is expected to ease their suffering but health experts are worried by fresh outbreaks as stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.

On day one of resuming business, Delhi’s upmarket Select Citywalk mall, home to stores of popular fashion brands such as H&M, Mac and Massimo Dutti, received close to 2,000 shoppers by 3pm.

Over 50% of the mall’s tenants opened shop on Monday, including brands such as H&M, Swarovski, Mango, Tommy Hilfiger and Clinique, but restaurants prepared to open later in the week.

Transparent panels separate diners at a restaurant in Bengaluru
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Transparent panels separate diners at a restaurant in Bengaluru

“We haven’t stepped up any marketing yet. We are taking small steps in getting the systems and processes tested," said Arjun Sharma, chairman of Select Group. “I estimate that over the next one month we can get up to 40% of the footfalls we generated pre-covid. It will pick up more towards Diwali," he added. Before the pandemic hit India, the mall received an average of 35,000 visitors on a weekday and 50,000 on weekends.

DLF Shopping Malls and Pacific group, with properties in Delhi and NCR, expect to unlock doors to shoppers this week, said their top executives.

Beauticians in protective gear attend to customers at a salon in Ahmedabad
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Beauticians in protective gear attend to customers at a salon in Ahmedabad

In Lucknow, an executive working for Wave Mall said he’s not expecting more than 100 people on day one even though all sanitization and safety protocols are in place. “Most quick service restaurant outlets are not open for dine-in but only delivering because they don’t have enough space to follow social distancing. We are expecting below 20% of our regular pre-covid footfall, which ranges between 5,000-7,000 on a weekday. So far (at 3 pm), only 40-odd customers who have to buy essentials such as grocery or clothing have come in," he said, declining to be named. An ANI report, however, said that Uttar Pradesh traders’ body has asked stores in malls to remain shut without a resolution on rents to be paid by them.

Several retailers are still waiting to re-negotiate rental agreements with mall developers across the country before they open stores. Among them is Metro Brands Ltd, which sells footwear under Metro, Mochi and Crocs. The firm has opened 250 of its 500 stores on high streets and is waiting to open the remaining outlets in malls. Retailers also sounded cautious on the demand front. “There might be some excitement of malls reopening but there is a lot of fear," said Dilip Kapur, founder of leather accessories brand Hidesign. “The demand pick-up will be slow. We are all assuming we have lost a year."

Prestige Group, which has eight malls across Bengaluru, Mysuru, Chennai and Hyderabad, said all its malls except the one in Chennai opened on Monday. “It was an encouraging start with footfalls in the range of 60-70% compared to the same period last year," said Suresh Singaravelu, executive director, retail, hospitality, and business expansion, Prestige Group. “We are waiting to see the response through the week to get an overall sense," he said.

Swedish furniture retailer IKEA opened its doors to customers in Hyderabad on Monday but kept its children’s play area shut. Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo also opened its store in Gurugram’s Cyber Hub.

Goutam Das, Saumya Tewari, Kalpana Pathak, Madhurima Nandy, Nidheesh M.K. contributed to this story.

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