Staying Afloat in the COVID Storm—Businesses in Manipal

In a few years, history textbooks will look back at 2020 as the year of the Coronavirus. Over 7 months of the year has been filled with uncertainty and anxiety due to the spread of the Coronavirus, with no immediate solution in sight. The pandemic has been a major roadblock for global economies, disrupting the routine functioning of every single country. Ever since various countries have started imposing lockdowns, a steep increase in unemployment has been witnessed across the globe. In times like these where large businesses have struck the financial iceberg and sunk, how are the smaller boats staying afloat?

The Current State of Trade

Businesses in India and around the globe have faced a plethora of problems while dealing with the impact of the pandemic. They are trying to recover from the jolt it has delivered to their livelihoods. Businesses that are largely dependent on human interaction have been caught off guard by the lockdown and social distancing norms. While the rest of the world has nonchalantly shifted their lives online, outlets like cafes, restaurants, and small-time grocery stores are struggling to make ends meet.

Day to day activities in Manipal—essentially a university town with students coming in from all over the country depend on the student community to a large extent. From the shops and restaurants bustling with students and the auto-rickshaw drivers ferrying students to their favourite locations in town to donning an empty and deserted look—life has come to a standstill in Manipal. Ever since the students shuttled back to their homes following the outbreak of the pandemic in India, businesses have been forced to shut down and have had to cope with the reduced demand for their goods and services.

Survival of the Fittest

For many students, the walk from the academic section to their hostel blocks is incomplete without a visit to the Campus Store. From eatables, stationery, cosmetics, and photocopies—it is a one-stop destination that caters to all their needs. Six months of the lockdown has forced Campus Store to shut down and send their employees back home. Most of the staff haven’t received their salaries post-April. A lack of customers, and a consequent lack of income, has compelled them to divulge all their perishable goods to other smaller traders on campus and around Manipal.

Campus Stores, MIT, looks deserted without the presence of students on the campus. [Image Credits: Campus Stores, MIT]

Apart from convenience stores and grocery shops, restaurants, and eateries have also suffered because of the lack of students. The loss of income is also the consequence of these outlets not being able to persuade the local customers to visit their restaurants and cafes, due to the lockdown preventing people from stepping out of the house for leisurely purposes. This led to major food outlets like The Egg Factory facing a complete shutdown. The resumption of food delivery to houses has eased the financial pressure on these businesses. “Both Egg Factory and Dollops are doing okay as of now. We had to close down completely during the first lockdown, but resumed operations afterward,” said Mr Anil Pai, a member of the Management Committee of The Egg Factory and Dollops.

Taking the blow due to a dip in sales because of the exponentially reduced customers are the employees who work for various small-time businesses. They have either not been paid for the past few months and have been sent home, or are working multiple shifts to make ends meet. Many businesses like The Egg Factory have asked their employees to work two shifts to sustain their livelihoods.

Precautions and Safety Protocols

A major factor that deters people from stepping outside and leading a normal life is the fear of contracting the virus in public places. Even though the government has issued safety protocols and precautionary measures that need to be taken to restrict the spread, the task of adhering to such instructions is ultimately a collective effort that makes these measures effective. Businesses open to the public have had to make sure that their customers and staff are safe from the Coronavirus. It is, therefore, understandable that restaurants, shops, and cafes in Manipal and all over the country are emptying their coffers to get certain safety measures implemented and make the customers feel secure during their visit.

Regular temperature checks being conducted at Egg Factory, a popular eatery in Manipal. [Image Credits: The Egg Factory, Manipal]

Some businesses like the Campus Store—who are uncertain about when the situation will diffuse—are unsure about the extent of investment that is needed to be made to enforce safety measures. On the other hand, eateries like The Egg Factory have already ensured that proper safety measures like the regular use of hand sanitizers, compulsory usage of masks, and thermal scans for customers and employees alike. “All our employees have been instructed about personal hygiene and are aware of COVID-19 and its effects. Each of the employees is covered by a Corona Kavach insurance, a gesture that none of the other restaurants have done so far,” remarked Mr Pai, when asked about the safety measures and relief for employees that have been in place.

Ensuring satisfaction as well as the safety of any customer is a top priority for any business. Grub Monkeys, a hugely popular destination in Manipal where students are often seen after their classes, have switched to disposable plates and glasses, apart from installing hand-sanitizers stations and ensuring the safety of their employees with regular temperature monitoring.

The Way Forward

Despite facing a drop in their income, the businesses in Manipal are positive about their future—albeit uncertain. Students make up a majority of their customer base, and the reopening of colleges can rejuvenate their sales. While being optimistic about the future, Mr. Pai is firmly grounded in reality as he stated that their sales might go back to around 75 percent of their business before the pandemic.  “We remain closed during May, June, almost half of July, and December as students have holidays. So, we have a bit of experience in handling such situations,” said Mr Ganesh Naik of the Campus Store, MIT, Manipal, who has remained at home for the last few months. Trying times like these often prove to be the litmus test for the survival of small scale businesses.

Employees at the Egg Factory at work with masks and appropriate safety measures. [Image Credits: The Egg Factory, Manipal]

These outlets have seen it all—from being filled to the brim with the student community to bearing the brunt of the pandemic and the social distancing norms. However, as people start trickling back to their pre-pandemic routine, these owners hope that they can stay afloat and thrive by providing the customer with their services and safety. A need for survival, the belief that normalcy will be restored, and an inherent trust in the community are the beacons of hope that guide these businessmen in these current tunnels of darkness.

Featured Image Credits: The Egg Factory