Cries for store rent waiver grow louder | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 03, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:28 AM, June 03, 2020

Taming coronavirus rampage

Cries for store rent waiver grow louder

For more than two months, Motahar Hossain has been unable to run business at his two clothing retail stores in the capital's Bashundhara City as the major shopping centre has remained closed to keep the coronavirus pandemic at bay.

As a result, all eight of his employees have remained idle while no sales have been made. Hossain's business expenses to pay salaries for the staff, space rent and service charge remain a constant.

He paid salaries to his workers in full for the month of March but in April, he managed to pay only 30 per cent of their total salaries by borrowing the money from relatives. He is yet to clear the dues, including rent and service charge, for May.

In the last two months, Hossain completely missed out on the two biggest sales seasons of the year: Eid-ul-Fitr, the biggest festival for the Muslim and Pahela Baishakh, the first month of the Bengali New Year.

Even if his stores reopen after the coronavirus crisis is over, he will have the increased burden of making up for any unpaid rent and service charge.

Despite the fact that many of the other shop owners at Bashundhara City are facing similar difficulties, the authorities of the country's second-largest shopping complex are yet to offer any form of discount or waiver on the rent or service charge.

"Frankly speaking, I do not have the capacity to pay. We wait for the Eid festival during the rest of the year to register a handsome amount of sales. But we lost that scope," said a frustrated Hossain, the proprietor of Ayesha Fashion at Bashundhara City.

Hossain has been unable to pay his rent for four months now.

This prompted the owner of his outlet to contact Hossain on serval occasions during the nationwide shutdown to ask for the rent.

Hossain was left with little option other than convincing the owner to defer the payment.

He is just one of the thousands of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs who shuttered stores following the government's directive to close all businesses on March 26 in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Bangladesh has more than 30 lakh retail and wholesale stores with Dhaka city alone being home to 2.40 lakh of those shops, according to data from the Dhaka Metropolitan Shop Owners Association (DMSOA).

Like Hossain, most shop owners depend on sales to make an income. But with the coronavirus pandemic having already taken a serious toll on the economy, many small-scale entrepreneurs have been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.

"On the one hand, we could not sell our products. On the other, owners are demanding rent. This is really a very bad situation," said Liyakwat Hossain Shobuj, proprietor of Aroush, a punjabi store at Bashundhara City.

Many stores pulled up their shutters on May 10 after the government eased some of the restrictions.

However, the authorities of a number of well-known establishments, namely Bashundhara City, Jamuna Future Park, Gausia Market and Eastern Plaza, decided to keep their premises closed since the highly communicable disease could rapidly spread through shoppers if health guidelines are not met stringently.

Meanwhile, the markets that have already reopened have been unable to recover from their losses due to the poor customer turnout.

Considering the situation, any discount or waiver provided by mall authorities could reduce the financial pressure on shop proprietors.

However, the owners of the outlets are yet to provide any assurance of any kind as they themselves mostly depend on the rent for their incomes.

"Many owners are unwilling to consider our problem and give us any relief. As we cannot do business because of the lockdown, owners should also bear the part of the burden to reduce the pressure on us," said Sazzadur Rahman, who runs mobile phone retail outlets at Orchard Point and Metro Shopping Mall in Dhaka.

"Many owners are pushing for rent and a number of shop operators had to make partial payments amid the pressure from owners. We want a two-month waiver for rent to overcome the dip in sales."

A number of proprietors have had to give up their businesses while new entrants will not enjoy good business at this time, Rahman said.

"Owners should offer us some respite. If the rent for a month is waived, we can at least pay salaries to our staff," he added.

A few of the space owners though are considering standing by their tenants.

"I will consider it if any of my tenants approaches me. Because, it is tough for anyone to pay three months' rent under these circumstances," said Mohd Selim, who owns several store spaces at Eastern Plaza.

"They are small shop owners and they have not received any stimulus. They need support," he added.

If the rent was waived for even a month, it could be a win-win situation for both owners and tenants, said Tasnim Alam Proshun, owner of a mobile phone retail store, Hello Enterprise, at Orchard Point.

"Ultimately, it will be the loss of owners if any shop operator quits," he said.

Md Helal Uddin, president of the National Association of Shop Owners of Bangladesh, feels that the rent issue should be settled mutually between shop owners and tenants.

"The government has not waived or reduced the electricity, water and gas bills. Part of the utility bills should be waived to help both tenants and owners."

Each retail outlet at the mall is owned by separate individuals. Therefore, the rent issue is a matter between shop owners and tenants, said Sheikh Abdul Alim, in-charge of Bashundhara City Shopping Mall.

"No decision has been taken yet regarding the payment of service charge for April and May," he added.

Mohammed Alamgir, director of Jamuna Group, the owning company of Jamuna Future Park, said his company is yet to take any decision on the service charge and rent.

"The micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) should be given support because 60 per cent would be out of business if they remain inactive for a long time due to the lockdown," said Atiur Rahman, a former governor of the central bank at a virtual discussion on Monday. 

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