While markets around the world are facing widespread disruption due to the coronavirus breakout, shopping centres in Oman are no exception. Adding fuel to the fire is the mushrooming online stores, which can get you anything from anywhere.
Ruwi, a bustling souq and one of the oldest areas in Muscat and home to hundreds of business houses catering to citizens and residents with middle income, is the worst hit by the pandemic.
Most of its attractions that include shops selling jewellery, electronic and electrical items, watches, readymade shops and gift corners and restaurants have downed their shutters for lack of business.
Scenes of shops being vacated and ‘to let’ boards hanging in front of them have become common every nook and corner of this decades-old part of Muscat.
Once hummed with shoppers from far off places, especially during the weekends, the main street and alleyways of Ruwi now wear a deserted look except for the passersby.
“It is harrowing to see that shops are closing down one after the other leaving this historic marketplace to no man’s land”, said Mubarak al Wahaibi, who has his family roots in Ruwi .
Even as Ruwi which falls under the Wilayat of Muttrah, was able to contain the virus following two consecutive lockdowns and slowly reopened, people have started abandoning its shops.
Many stores are still closed, some permanently, while those that are open have very little foot traffic despite the fact that there are touchless temperature checks, mandatory masks and hand sanitisers and other COVID-19 precautionary measures are kept in place.
“The virus has wreaked havoc on our businesses with virtually no visitors to our shops”, said Vijaybhai Narain, a readymade shop owner. He said that he is totally broke with no money to pay for rent and salaries to his staff.
“Except for shops selling essentials most shops do not have any sales so that they could make the ends meet. Now struggling to keep the place open with a pared-down staff, and sales are almost nil during the pandemic,” he said.
Mohamed Mustafa, who already closed his restaurant, said, “Anyone in the food and dining business is really suffering right now. I think that’s true in all the sectors. There is going to be a lot of pain.”
Abdul Kareem, who deals in watches and electronic items, said he already closed one of the shops and is planning to do so with the other as well.
Jewellery shops are no exception with a number of them downed their shutters after seeing that gold no more sparkles as the pandemic has upended its physical demand.
“Sales have plummeted mainly due to high price and lack of cash with people. Adding to the woes is the mass departure of the expatriates”, said the manager of a leading jewellery brand.
But Faisal Ahmed, an expert in consumer durables said that shoppers have moved online so that the products reach their doorsteps — a habit most are expected to maintain even after the pandemic.
“As more and more people become accustomed to buying what they need from the comfort of their home, more shops lined up on the high street will vanish in the future”, he said.