Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Shopkeepers in Phuentsholing say that the garment business has taken a plunge after the border gate opened on September 23.

Tashi Lham, a garment shop owner, had not made her first sale even by 4pm yesterday.  “People are going across the border because it is cheaper there,” she said.

Even before the border gate opened, residents and visitors were raising concerns that Phuentsholing was becoming more expensive than Thimphu.  Shopkeepers say that Phuentsholing doesn’t have large importers like in Thimphu. Large importers are able to bring the cost down. Tashi Lham attributed higher prices of garments in Phuentsholing to transportation and materials handling.

“The number of people has decreased in Phuentsholing,” she said. “We are still recovering from prolonged lockdowns.”

And the rising inflation worries Tashi Lham, a single mother of three. “I used to make sales worth Nu 6,000 per day on average before September 23. Now, it has dropped to Nu 500 a day.”

Another shopkeeper said the garment business is down by over 90 percent. His daily sales hit Nu 50,000 before the gate opened. “We knew the business would go down but coming to this level is really worrying.”

Meanwhile, many residents are also calling for stricter entry and exit of vehicles. They say that small-time vendors from across the border are bringing in betel nuts and betel leaves and taking cigarettes from Phuentsholing.

Another shopkeeper, Tshering Dorji, said, “The goods come in vehicles, while they enter from the pedestrian terminal and market their products in the town. It is a home delivery system approach.”

Despite being the festival season, Tshering Dorji said his business has decreased by 70 percent.

Meanwhile, restaurant and bar businesses have shot up in the last few weeks.