In Kerala, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned Mattanchery's antique shops into symbols of despair

Antiques and handicrafts displayed at a shop in Mattanchery heritage town in Kochi.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The sprawling shops and tastefully-recreated godowns in Mattancherry, which were considered a treasure trove of exquisite antiques and handicrafts, some of which found place in the Limca Book of Records, are now symbols of despair.

So much so that many traders are keen to dispose of their shops and the many-centuries-old wares kept for sale due to next-to-nil arrival of tourists and freight issues.

For most well-heeled tourists from abroad and across India who arrived in Kochi, their visit to the coastal city was incomplete without a stroll past Jew Street in the heritage town and checking out the innumerable small and mega outlets that sold prized antique items.

Almost all traders who owned anything from small outlets to those that are spread over a lakh sq.ft., did great business till the global cruise-ship sector was grounded and curbs were imposed on air travel, following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online orders

"We scraped past in 2020 by banking on online orders. The pandemic's second wave in early 2021 played spoilsport with even that, since the fear factor increased," says Sunny L. Malayil, co-partner of Crafters, which is spread over a 30,000 sq. ft space in the heritage town that has the famed Dutch Palace and one of the oldest synagogues.

Antiques and handicraft items from here were in high demand across the globe, especially among high-net-worth individuals, architects, interior designers, hotels and corporate entities. The pandemic-induced slowdown has led to freight cost to the U.S. increasing from around $2,600 to $6,600 per container, cranking up the waiting period. The export of spices and coir too has been similarly hit, he said.

All this has in turn affected the livelihood of artisans who manufactured handcrafted items displayed in the shops. Many possessing excellent workmanship have already diverted to other fields.

Speaking about the prevailing trend in the antiques/crafts sector, Mr. Malayil said that both procurement and marketing have gone digital, with pictures and videos being shared online. "So much so that the B2B exhibition hosted by Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts in 2020 was a virtual one. Still, I am hoping that the cloud of uncertainty will clear in the coming months," he added.

Foreign tourists

The next-to-nil arrival of people to Jew Town itself symbolises the plight of traders here, said N. B. Majnu, owner of Heritage Arts spread over 1 lakh sq.ft. “Over half of our customers were foreign tourists. Halting of their arrival has resulted in most traders being unable to pay rent, while power supply in many cases have been disconnected over non-payment of dues, so much so that many are withdrawing from the sector,” he pointed out.

Despite this, we need to spend on maintaining the premises, to prevent damage and termite infestation of the costly items on display. There seems to be no hope of revival at least till December (traditionally the peak-tourist month), said Mr. Majnu said.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 8:48:52 PM |

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