Dimapur’s Hongkong Market Faces Existential Crisis - Eastern Mirror
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Dimapur’s Hongkong Market faces existential crisis

By Temshinaro Updated: Jun 10, 2024 11:20 pm
Hongkong Market
Hongkong Market

DIMAPUR — Yangchen Bhutia arrived in Nagaland’s commercial capital Dimapur in 1997 with the hope of making it big in business but she found herself struggling to realise it even after almost three decades.

Sitting at her clothing store in Hongkong Market, the once-thriving shopping area in Dimapur, Bhutia said the good times of this area are gone.

Following the COVID-induced lockdown in the state in 2020, the footfall in the market has drastically reduced and the popularity of online shopping has taken its toll on physical shopping, she said.

Once thriving, now shrinking

Dimapur was home to over a hundred families belonging to the Tibetan Bhutias and Tibetans, most of them running clothing stores and restaurants in Hongkong Market area.

However, after facing losses in business post the pandemic period, at least 70 to 80 families have left the state, said Tsering, a member of the Tibetan Buddhist Bhutia Welfare Association (TBBWA) in Dimapur, who arrived in the city about 20 years ago.

President of TBBWA Dimapur, Tenzin told Eastern Mirror that the main reason behind the closure and migration of the Tibetan Bhutias and Tibetans was the shift from physical to online shopping, while a few left because of age factor.

In the past, members of the community would come to the state to set up retail and wholesale clothing businesses or run restaurants, and most of them did well. However, only about 45 families are currently staying in the city, he said.

Among those who chose to stay is 52-year-old Kunga who, due to poor sales, had to shut down one of his two stores.

Married and settled in Dimapur, Kunga reminisced that the market, in its formative years, had seasonal merchants from the community who would come to Dimapur only for three months (October to December), to sell winter clothing.

After seeing the economic potential, many of them arrived in the state to open more permanent shops. This trend continued for almost four decades but sales have drastically dwindled since 2020, he said.

Minimal sales

For Yangchen, as sales went from bad to worse after the pandemic, she employed new strategies and brought in trendier items to attract more customers. However, even that has not worked as she continues to struggle to pay her monthly rent of INR 22,500.

In the past, wholesale buyers from other districts and neighbouring states used to flock in from October till the Christmas holidays. But even that has reduced with the buyers coming only in December amid decrease sales. 

“My family is at our wit’s end, trying to manage the household as we have school-going children and daily expenses,” she rued.

Dimapur has been my home; I feel ‘homesick’ and yearn to return every time I go out of the state but “I may have to leave the state if this is to continue”, Yangchen added.

The story is no different for 64-year-old Youden La who opened a store at Hongkong Market about 40 years ago.

Recalling how the market used to be the main shopping destination for every occasion, she noted that various shopping areas have cropped up across Dimapur along with the popularity of online shopping.

“We are struggling with minimal sales,” she said, adding that they would be compelled to leave the city even if they do not want to.

Another store owner, Rose (name changed), has put up all the items in her shop on ‘heavy sale’, to eke out INR 9,800 for her monthly rent.

The COVID lockdown greatly affected my business, she said, sharing about how she used to run two clothing shops for almost two decades before the pandemic.

“I had to close down one of my shops,” Rose said, adding that the rent keeps increasing while the sales continue to decrease. “There are days that go by without even a single sale.”

Sharing a similar story, Tsepi, who has been into business for more than three decades, said that the lockdown’s effect on her family’s business was drastic.

Having had to pay a monthly rent of INR 14,500 for her store, the 55-year-old business woman explained that it has become increasingly difficult to manage the rent, taxes, and educational expenses for her children.

Like Rose, she also experiences days when there is not a single sale. It is only during the Christmas season that the sales go up a little bit, she said.

“My heart is in Dimapur and I want to continue living here, but if business does not improve, I will be compelled to leave like the others,” she added.

Despite the bleak outlook, a few customers still visit the market, drawn to the ‘try and buy’ experience it offers.

A shopper, who was spotted trying on some sneakers at a store, agreed that online shopping is more convenient. But she still prefers to buy her footwear from Hongkong Market as shoe sizing system used in online stores is somewhat ‘confusing’.

“The shoes sold here may not be ‘original’ branded ones, but they are affordable and durable compared to other non-branded items sold in other markets,” she added.

Meanwhile, some shopkeepers said that many have left, but the market continues to attract new sellers, many of whom struggle to survive and close down their shops after suffering losses.

Despite the challenges, shopkeepers like Yangchen remain hopeful. “We are trying to stay positive,” she said, “We are bringing in new trends, hoping to attract customers who still crave the magic of physical shopping. But it’s difficult.”

For now, the future of Hongkong Market remains uncertain as it faces a difficult battle against the growing influence of online shopping and struggles to retain its identity as the go-to shopping hub.

By Temshinaro Updated: Jun 10, 2024 11:20:53 pm
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