Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Small businesses, especially restaurant and bars in Phuentsholing are in what is called the catch 22 situation.

They have to keep their business open and the timing and flow of customers is not helping them.

All shops have to close down at 5pm, which the owners said was the major deterrent to those who wanted to hit the restaurants and bars after 5pm.

Most of the restaurants and bars were empty. Even if they have customers, they cannot entertain all because of the 50 percent sitting capacity rule.

Prem Kumari Ghalley, 32, said she spends her day waiting for customers.

“None would come sometimes,” she said.

Prem Kumari said most of her  customers were villagers from Phuentsholing and Lokchina gewogs. They are not coming because the vehicle movement is restricted at present. Her restaurant is located at Goedoe Lam.

Starting this year, Prem Kumari will have to pay Nu 34,000 per month as rent for her small space, which is an increase from Nu 29,000 until December last year.

The Covid-19 Incident Management Team (IMT) in Phuentsholing announced lockdown relaxation since January 6. It is in the first phase today and allows people’s movement on foot until 6pm. Restaurants and bar, including all other shops, are allowed to operate from 8am to 5pm.

Restauranteur Sonam Penjor said easing the lockdown and letting restaurant and bars to open is of no use.

“There are no customers. It is better to only let essential shops operate.”

Sonam Penjor said the situation was the same with everyone in restaurant and bar business. House owners will think there is business as usual, he said, adding the rents have to be paid anyway, with or without sales.

With business down, he said keeping their restaurants open was just additional cost from utility charges like electricity bills.

“I have not paid the rent for the last four months and I have not been given any notice for concessions. So, probably in the future, I would be asked to pay the full amount,” he said, adding that this is a big reason to worry.

Another restaurant and bar owner, Sarita Gurung, 38 said since there was no community transmission in Phuentsholing, it would be just fine to allow businesses operate until 8pm.

“Customers come only after 5pm,” she said. Sarita Gurung pays Nu 25,000 as rent for her restaurant.

Small business owners, meanwhile, feel the government should intervene and not leave waiving or slashing house rents to “moral responsibilities” of the landlord. One woman said all the house owners are benefitting from the loan deferment but didn’t pass down the benefit to the tenants.

“Only government can do something. Government should ask them to waive off,” she said.

Meanwhile, the second phase of the lockdown in Phuentsholing was supposed to start yesterday. However, the Covid-19 IMT has the first phase is extended until January 15.