Once a bustling market with a robust business, the historic K.R. Market has seen a decline in business in recent years, according to traders there. Several shops have closed in this busy market and most vegetable and general merchants watch their sales dwindle by the day.
So much so the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) finds there are no takers for the market’s second floor despite shops being put up for auction thrice. Traders in other older markets such as Russel Market and Johnson Market, patronised by customers in the past, have similar tales to tell.
What has caused this drastic change in fortunes for these landmark markets of old Bangalore? The arrival of new age market chains, increasing number of neighbourhood vegetable stores, and the high-speed growth of Bangalore with its daunting, traffic-choked distances all seem to have caused the decline.
“Traders in big markets such as the K.R. Market have lost at least 20 per cent of their business to new retail vegetables chains that have come up in Bangalore, especially in the last two to three years,” said R.V. Gopi, president, Vegetables and Fruits Merchants Association. A crucial factor is the poor parking facilities, which is a serious disincentive for many old customers.
Echoing his view is Abdul Wahid, a vegetable vendor at Russel Market for the last 20 years. “We have lost business to retail chains in the last three or four years. Customers are not coming to us as the same vegetables are available in retail chains and neighbourhood stores.” Though figures are not available to quantify the effect of the new retail chains on the city’s old markets, a good indicator is what Subramanyam, who plies his trade at K.R. Market, said: “Our regular customers now come to us only during festivals and the marriage season when the retail prices of vegetables shoot up.”
“The retail chains sell even chopped vegetables, which has helped many working couples avoid going to big markets,” pointed out S. Krishnamurthy, a banker. “Even neighbourhood outlets like HOPCOMS and vegetable shops sell at reasonable prices. The charm of visiting old markets has been lost.”
Some traders blame the poor facilities around the market for their dwindling clientele.
Amenities are so poor in K.R. Market that the underground parking lot is an amalgamation of stinks, drinking water is not available, and toilets are grossly inadequate. When the approach to the market itself is so difficult because of traffic and the vendors who pack the footpaths outside, it is quite natural for customers to avoid it, conceded vegetable vendor Mohammed.
Another big factor in declining business for traders inside K.R. Market and Russel Market are the roadside vendors who have cropped up in hordes.
“When there are hundreds of roadside vendors outside the market, we cannot expect the customers to wade through the mess and come inside. Business is so dull that many traders are unable to pay the rent ,” Mr. Gopi said. He added that authorities have failed to heed their requests for removing vendors outside the market.
“Complaints to the police and authorities against footpath vendors have not helped,” said Anand, a vendor at Russel Market. However, BBMP Joint Commissioner (Markets) B.E. Govindraju said roadside vendors cannot be evicted without providing them with an alternative space as the Supreme Court has legalised roadside vending.
“Hawking zones have to be created and vendors evicted from the roadside have to be accommodated there. There is no open space around K.R. Market area where hawking zones can be created.”