Many operators readjusting to stay alive

Yeshey Lhadon

Two weeks ago, a Karaoke owner opened her shop. She turned it into a bar. The idea was to save her investment, especially furniture and furnishings from pests.

Seven months since the entertainment business came to an abrupt end, owners are surrendering or trying everything they can to hang on to the business with a hope that the government would soon give them the go ahead.

“I was greeted by some unwanted guests – rats and a musty odor of molds,” said Cave Karaoke owner in Thimphu, Dorji Tshomo. She turned her karaoke into a bar two weeks ago.

There are about 45 Karaoke bars in Thimphu registered with the Karaoke Association of Bhutan (KAB). KAB met the Prime Minister on September 22 and discussed reopening their business.

Gyem Dorji, a member of KAB said that they haven’t got a clear statement on whether the entertainment business will re-start or remain shut. “We were told to do alternative business. Less than 10 percent of the karaoke bar operators want to try running a bar and restaurant while the rest remain closed,” he said.

The entertainment business owners have been waiting for the government to announce the reopening date.  

“Karaoke was among one of the first businesses to be closed, we expected the government would let us reopen it in a phased manner. But we heard nothing from the government,” said Gyem Dorji.

Paying rent is the biggest problem “The rent is high and we lost our source of income. The ad hoc closure of our business made us depend on our friends and families to pay the rent. We can’t continue like this for long,” added Gyem Dorji.

The precarious financial state also forced KAB to surrender their office, as it couldn’t afford to pay rent and salary for the office assistant. Gyem Dorji said: “Government should give us a solution. Before we go bankrupt or drown in debts.”

Those in the business feel neglected with all other businesses such as grocery stores, vegetable markets, retail shops, bars, restaurants and sport fields allowed to operate. “We see people gathering everywhere. Is it not going to spread the virus? How is Karaoke bar only the source of infection?” asked Gyem Dorji.

Drayang owners share similar problems. There are about 60 drayangs registered with Druk Drayang Association, which is also out of business.

More than 900 employees, mostly women depend on drayang for livelihood and sustainability. The president of DDA, Kelzang Phuntsho said that Royal Kidu was a huge relief to the staff but most of the employees still depend on their owners. “We can’t turn our back to our staff when they ask for advance payment, but the owners are drowned in debts after our business closed suddenly.”

Entertainment business operators are planning to approach the government again to let their business open with conditions. They want to open with reduced capacity and stringent safety measures.

“As there is no confirmed local transmission and the health ministry is strictly monitoring the porous borders and quarantine facilities, we should be allowed to operate with conditions,” said Kelzang Phuntsho.

Discotheques pay the highest rent among the entertainment business and some have been asked to surrender their place if they failed to pay off their rent. Viva City pays Nu 221,656 every month despite no business since March.


New ideas

Viva City’s owner, Rinchen said he paid his rent from the Overdraft facility (OD loan). “Our OD loan is exhausting. We are planning to start a bar and fast-food restaurant to meet the running cost of the disco bar.”

Others are resorting to everything that can keep them alive. Kinley Wangchuk, the owner of one of the first live music houses in Thimphu, Mojo Park, said that his business license was clubbed together with karaoke and draying due to which the blanket law was also applied to his live music house.

Mojo Park reopened in August using its bar and restaurant license. The live music house now sells lunch and drinks. He said: “Live music is our main stay. What do we put on the stage if we can’t play live music? What difference does it make having a band on stage when we have 50 percent full occupancy anyway?” said Kinley Wangchuk.

The entrepreneur and founder of Radio Valley is also mulling on hosting standup comedy shows and talk shows if the situation continues.

Mojo Park’s seven bands are also out of job. “It took me eight years to assemble and groom the band members,” he said. “If the government wants us close, they should compensate the operators, it’s better than running on loss.”

The owner said that extending the bar closing hours might improve business. “If government wants to help us, we need them to let us operate till midnight. We might see more people after the restaurants are closed at 9pm.”