The shutdown of most businesses in Muttrah to control the spread of COVID-19 has left shop owners and traders in the area gasping for breath. With shutters down since March 18, most business owners have had no income, yet are obliged to pay rents and staff salaries.
While most other parts of the country have since opened up for business, Muttrah is closed with the exception of pharmacies, groceries and eateries for takeaway orders only.
Amina al Balushi, owner of two gents’ tailoring shops in Muttrah, is at her wits’ end. The shops staffed by 14 tailors have fetched no income since March 18. “What is Muttrah’s fault?” she asks in desperation. “Every other place in Oman has opened, except Muttrah.”
Mahendra Kumar, another business owner operating in Muttrah, is now dipping into his life savings just to keep afloat. His wholesale business of dishdasha textiles employs ten staff members who he must continue to pay, despite zero income.
Running his business in the area for 25 years, he has witnessed many of his friends who owned shops in Muttrah leave the country. “We have reached a stage where we can’t raise any more credit from the market,” says the 60 year old who was born in Muttrah. “Have they forgotten Muttrah? All of Oman is open, why not Muttrah?” he asks.
According to Sajid al Hooti, shop owners have approached the Wali of Muttrah asking him to take their case to the Supreme Committee. “We wrote a letter to the wali before Eid. We are waiting for a response,” said the owner of a jewellery accessory shop.
“It’s almost five months now that our shops have been closed. We are finding it difficult to make ends meet. I hope the authorities allow us to open soon.”
Besides shop rent and staff salaries – albeit a 20 per cent cut – Rejendra Asher of Asher Rajendra and Partners opposite Muttrah Taxi Stand – has also had to pay for storage space in Dubai for three shipments of textiles he had ordered specially for Eid. The business is 40 years old and run with five staff members. “All this is in addition to shop rent and salaries we need to pay here.”
Traders speak out
Mohammed Zubair, Wholesale and retail business of Omani traditional clothes
We have eight shops in Muttrah, all of which are closed. We also have a wholesale business outside Muttrah, thanks to which we are managing to earn something. This has helped us survive the lockdown, although it’s still very tough.
We employ 45 people who manage our retail business. We have staff that have been with us for more than ten years. We can’t just let them go. With flights to Bangladesh starting only recently, we will be sending some of our staff members on unpaid leave. We are not sacking them.
The biggest issue is paying rent for the shops. In Muttrah, around 60-70 per cent of the people live on daily wages, like tailors, silver and goldsmith and retail shop attendants. All these people are in big trouble due to the nature of their business.
Adbulsalaam, Coffee shop owner
Although we are allowed to open now, we have kept our shop closed because all the other shops in the area are closed, so there is no business. We manage our day-to-day needs, but our concern is the rent. We will open when all the other shops in the souq open. There is no point opening now as the whole area is deserted and there is no business.
Talal, Handicraft and gift shop owner
We’ve been closed for almost five months and we don’t have any other source of income. It is very difficult for us. I have just returned from the car dealer to negotiate my car loan payment. The company had earlier agreed to defer the loan payment for four months. Today, I requested an extension of three more months. Despite these problems, we have managed to pay salaries of our staff. How will they survive without salary?
Mahboob ur Rehman, Textiles dealer
We have ten shops and more than 40 people sitting idle for over four months. We have three houses to lodge our staff and the landlords say we need to pay the rent in installments. We are desperate for businesses to open.
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