Book sellers struggling with Covid-19 lockdowns, school closures
Nilkhet book market, long the premier destination for bookworms and students seeking textbooks in the capital, is on the verge of financial ruin following a year and a half of Covid-19 pandemic-enforced lockdowns and school closures.
Many small shop owners in the area have already shut down businesses or are planning to do so.
Arif Hossain, a bookseller at Nilkhet, left his shop in June this year as he could no longer bear the continuous losses since March last year. He plans to go to Saudi Arabia as an expatriate worker.
Arif had been renting the shop for Tk12,000 a month with a Tk2 lakh advance.
“The new tenant will take over the shop from September 1,” said Arif, who had been selling books for 16 years.
The new tenant may end up buying all the books that are left in the store for about half their worth.
Maidul Islam Razib, who had been a bookstore owner in Nilkhet since 2002, left his shop in May this year.
" I started as a salesman and managed to rent a small shop after two years. Business grew and I took a bigger store after paying Tk8 lakh in advance and monthly rent of Tk50,000," he said.
Razib held on to the shop over the last year and a half because he thought schools and colleges would reopen soon, but he was eventually forced to abandon it.
He said he shifted his children from a Dhaka school to his village home in Chandpur in October last year.
"It won't matter much If the government gives permission to open shops because our business is related to educational institutions. Schools, colleges and universities have to be reopened as well. I would have to rent a smaller shop now," Razib added.
Shop owners said many of them with bigger businesses had decided to let their employees go in order to cope with the losses. Some owners tried to sell books online, but sales were low.
What about booksellers on footpaths?
Rafiqul Islam was a roadside bookseller who attempted to continue selling books even when the market was closed. However, he soon found that customers were sparse.
Pashe Achhi, a Dhaka-based non-profit initiative, extended him a helping hand on March 22 last year.
Tahmid Hasan and Rafiul M Chowdhury, the founders of Pashe Achhi, decided to buy books from footpath booksellers at the right price before reselling them at minimum cost through Pashe Achhi's Facebook page. The initiative initially proved quite successful, before falling off this year.
"This year, we helped 4-5 booksellers sell their books as we were not getting orders," Tahmid Hasan said.
Some owners tried to help sellers
Gias Uddin, the owner of four shops at the Nilkhet book market, said: "In the first two months of 2020, I didn't take rent from the booksellers. Later, I reduced rent by 30%. I couldn't do more than this, as my landlord is taking the full rent from me."
He said one of the shops had now been abandoned, as the seller could not afford even the reduced rent for this long.
National Law Book House Publisher Mohammad Ali Mia said he too would be forced to close his business if educational institutions stayed closed for much longer.
"No one understands our situation. Other business owners have had the opportunity to sell their products by this time, but what about us?" Md Hasan Al Mahmud Selim, secretary of Islamic Market Multipurpose Cooperative Society, said.
"There are at least 750 bookshops in this market and most of them are on the verge of ruin now," he added.