Pahela Baishakh, the first day of Bangla new year, has once again brought no cheer to clothing and sweets retailers as the coronavirus pandemic has kept a majority of customers at bay for the second year in a row.
Shops have been opened since April 9 after the government relaxed restrictions. Yet, a large number of buyers have stayed away from shopping as the rogue coronavirus is infecting and killing a record number of people.
Fashion brands and small traders said they did not register expected sales marking Pahela Baishakh, the biggest cultural festival in Bangladesh and the second-largest sales season after Eid-ul-Fitr.
The rising infections have dampened the festive mood to celebrate the Bangla new year.
Although shops and malls are open and many shoppers out, the overall business has not been good.
"What we saw was a usual turnout of shoppers and sales. The seasonality in sales that we were accustomed to seeing ahead of Baishakh in the past is absent this year," said Khalid Mahmood Khan, director of Kay Kraft, one of the leading local fashion brands.
The restriction on movement imposed by the government created worries among commoners that the situation would worsen in the days to come.
The announcement of a strict lockdown to contain the second wave of the pandemic was the final nail in the coffin for retailers.
"The possibility of business evaporated after the announcement," Khan said, adding that this year's overall sales would be half of Baishakh sales recorded in normal times.
Mohammad Ashraful Alam, chief operating officer of Aarong, a chain store, said sales had been fine even a couple of weeks ago.
"But the sales have lost its momentum since the news of the one-week lockdown broke. So, we did not have as many sales as we expected this year."
The government enforced a weeklong lockdown-like restriction from April 5, banning the movement of transport vehicles and shutting shops, among other measures, as the coronavirus caseloads and deaths from the disease are rising alarmingly.
Amid protests from the shop owners, the government removed the bar to help traders sell their goods ahead of Baishakh.
As the situation shows no signs of improvement, the government has decided to impose a strict lockdown from April 14.
According to the Directorate General of Health Services, 83 people died from Covid-19 in the 24 hours to 8:00 am yesterday, the highest death toll in a day.
The government yesterday issued another order, banning all types of offices and transport and shutting malls, markets, hotels and restaurants for a week beginning from tomorrow.
For nearly two decades, the demand for clothes, particularly the traditional ones, has been rising. However, the outbreak of the pandemic has put a brake on that growth.
Shaheen Ahmmed, president of the Fashion Entrepreneurs Association of Bangladesh, said sales this year were much lower than in other years centred around Baishakh.
"We were able to open shops for limited hours due to the restriction. In fact, no shop has been able to log mentionable sales in the last few days," he said.
However, some buyers visited markets to buy clothing items to celebrate the occasion. Mohammad Maruf is one of them.
The resident of Gopibagh, Dhaka came to Bashundhara City Shopping Complex to buy garments and footwear for his spouse and children. Crowds at the mall were not that high.
However, Abul Hossain, a trader in the capital's New Market, handled more buyers yesterday than in the previous two days.
"It is good for us. However, many are not following the hygiene rules, and it is not right. Buyers should come shopping following health rules," he said.
Traders in the various markets of the city say the presence of shoppers increases in the late afternoon and evening.
SaRa Lifestyle Ltd, a sister concern of garment maker and exporter Snowtex Group, saw a good turnout of shoppers.
"Sales were pretty good," said SaRa Lifestyle Director Sharifunnesa Reba.
Sweet sellers also did not have good sales ahead of Pahela Baishakh.
Syed Nurul Islam, CEO of Well Group, said sweets worth around Tk 50 crore were sold all over Bangladesh on the occasion of the first day of Baishakh.
"We usually plan to sell sweets of Tk 1 crore on the first day of Baishakh. But once again, we could not sell ahead of this festival. We did not get any order for sweets this year," he said.