Mumbai allows trading for 24 hours but initial response not as well as expected

BANGALORE – Mumbai is the first major Indian city to allow trading for 24 hours but response was lukewarm in the first weekend after it was implemented.

Most malls did not stay open at night, and those that did reported “less than average” activity.

The western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, approved its “Mumbai 24 hours” policy on Jan 21, allowing malls, shops and restaurants to open 24 hours seven days a week if they wished to.

Shops were earlier required to close by 10pm, while restaurants could remain open till 1.30am.

The new regulation does not apply to pubs and bars, which will still have to shut by 1.30am.

“We are hopeful that the new move will provide jobs and revenue to our youth,” said Mr Aditya Thackeray, the state’s Tourism and Environment Minister.

The 29-year-old minister, who is also the son of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, presented the policy as capturing the spirit of the sleepless megapolis and of its youth.

“If we have to make Mumbai an international city, then putting it under a curfew is not good. There are people who work night shifts. Where will tourists in transit go after 10pm if they are hungry? We are trying to give them more facilities,” said the younger Mr Thackeray.

The Retailers Association of India (RAI) welcomed the decision.

“Our expectation is that employment in the retail sector will increase by as much as 10 per cent in the next three years,” said Mr Kumar Rajagopalan, RAI’s chief executive officer.

But members of the state’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticised the new policy, saying nightlife would attract more crimes and increase instances of rape. Some BJP leaders had also claimed it was against Indian culture.

The state government said it would gauge the response before deciding how many more policemen to deploy on the streets at night.

The first few nights have been disappointing, however, if large crowds of midnight shoppers were expected.

Mr Arbaaz Pawaskar, who runs a few stores of the Only fashion brand, said the response from customers on the weekend was “very very average”.

As opposed to the day-time sale proceeds of 150,000 rupees (S$2,900), his store in a mall in central Mumbai saw night sales of only 10,000 to 31,000 rupees, he said.

“Most of the shoppers on Saturday came between 1am and 2am, after the discotheque in the mall closed, and that too because we advertised a 50 per cent discount. People like to eat, drink, dance and enjoy at night. Very rarely would someone like to shop at night,” said Mr Pawaskar.

Not all Mumbai mall owners were enthusiastic either due to concerns over additional costs, manpower and doubts over footfalls late at night.

Studies on consumer behaviour in Indian malls estimate that footfalls and revenues between 6pm and 10pm are double those between 10am and 6pm. This applies to weekends as well, with twice the footfall and earnings seen on weekdays.

“The cost of operating shopping centres in the evening every single hour is significantly high. You are targeting a fractional crowd but you have to keep all the services all night long,” Mr Shubranshu Pani, managing director of retail services at JLL India, told local reporters.

Restaurant owners are more optimistic.

Mr Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and MD of Impresario Handmade Restaurants that operates the popular Smoke House Deli, Salt Water Cafe and Social, said that some outlets of its 11 brands would be open until 4am.

“With the state government recognising the true potential that Mumbai’s hospitality sector holds, this gives us a chance to embrace the consumer without deadlines,” he said.

To maintain safety norms, Impresario has decided to drop its female employees home after hours.

Some like Mr Amlani welcomed the 1.30am cut-off on alcohol sales as practical, but others saw it as a dampener.

“I doubt any bars will stay open just to sell food,” said Mr Sibi Venkataraju, co-founder of Ph4 Food & Beverages that runs the Toit craft beer brand.

Mr Sharad Ughade, the assistant commissioner of the city municipality and the officer in charge for the plan, attributed the tepid response to a lack of awareness.

“This is the initial phase and industry has to popularise it and try to find out solutions… When the word spreads, there will be better response,” said Mr Ughade.

India has officially forecast 5 per cent economic growth for the current financial year, the slowest pace since 2008-09. Analysts expect the government to announce tax concessions and new policies in its annual budget next month that will revive economic activity.

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