The border town across Phuentsholing town is thriving as Bhutanese customers gather in hordes to shop every day. However, the scenario in the adjacent Bhutanese town is still grim.
Despite the government lifting the restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic almost two years ago, business operators in Phuentsholing said that they are struggling to make ends meet.
A 33-year-old restaurant owner in Phuentsholing, Gita Maya Gurung has decided to close her business by the end of this month due to financial challenges. Her income has not been sufficient to cover the expenses including the monthly rent of Nu 25,000, leading her to rely on friends for rent support.
“In the past, many Indians used to visit my restaurant. Today, it is difficult to sustain. Sometimes, I hardly earn any income,” Gita Maya Gurung said.
She said that the reduction in foot traffic and sales have forced her to lay off an employee.
Cheychey, a grocer, said that sales are not satisfactory with customers still opting to purchase from Jaigaon despite competitive prices.
She said that the current exodus might have contributed to business challenges in the town. “I also have plans to move to Australia with my husband.”
Another shopkeeper, Norbu, operating a bar for six years, said that many vendors open their shops late and close early. “Our income has plunged.”
A few said that there are some signs of business revival.
Namsey Medical Supply has experienced improving sales. The store operator, Urmila Rai said, “After the lockdown, sales are picking up gradually. It is encouraging.”
Phuentsholing Thrompon, Uttar Kumar Rai, said the Thromde is trying to enhance business by collaborating with Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry for a musical concert and planning a family night out programme. However, he said that the population decrease in Phuentsholing is a primary reason for business challenges.
He also said that the similarities between businesses in Phuentsholing and Jaigaon was another factor.
The thrompon said that high loan interest rates and construction costs make it unlikely for house rent to decline in Phuentsholing, affecting building owners as well.