[We Care, We Share] Inspiring story: Shop shutters roll with optimism

We Care We Share

An initiative of UN Bhutan- resilience tools for COVID-19

Shop shutters roll with optimism

Sonam Dema rolled open her shop after 14 days in lockdown. Now past the third week, all sorts of rumours began to fill the ears and mouths of many Thimphu dwellers. Despite the talks surrounding the lift of the lockdown or an extension, it was a fact that Thimphu in particular, was anxious. Across the nation, eyes were peeled on the TV, Sonam Dema remembers waiting for the LIVE Press Release in two minds.

Sonam has been running a shop for the last 11 years. Starting March this year, things took a different turn for shops and businesses in Bhutan. Most shop owners feared not being able to cater to the needs of their customers, since transportation of goods and items became an apparent challenge. Sonam saw a huge drop in customers and a lack of variety of items in her shop.

When the lockdown was first announced, like many shopkeepers, Sonam rushed to her store in the early hours of that morning. Her shop is in the same building where she lives. She closed the shutters of her shop that day, in a vacant movement not knowing when she could open it again.

“But the first week was pleasant, I had spent the time with my family and tended to house chores, the house owner had even decreased our rents by 50%. After 7 days, it became a bit heavy. I started to worry about the food items in the shop. They had just arrived a day before the lockdown, and they were now going to get spoilt,” says Sonam. “That was just one of the worries,” adds Sonam.

By the second week, even though her shop was closed, Sonam received numerous requests from the tenants in the same building, asking for grocery and food items. She went from door to door in the building where she lived and distributed items from her stock. The uncertainty of the lockdown, and question of how long it would last occupied her mind all the time, as the only source of income came from her shop.

She decided to request and open her shop as one of the specified shops in the zone.

Beginning of the third week, her request came through and she finally pulled open the shutters of her shop with a sense of relief and caution. Being an authorised Bank of Bhutan (BOB) Connect agent, Sonam can also take the role of a bank and could offer services of depositing and withdrawing of cash for the public.

“We had many customers availing this particular service during the lockdown, some zones did not have ATMs. It was efficient, considering the restrictions of movement beyond respective zones,” says Sonam.

Sonam also began selling meat and vegetable items in her shop for the convenience of her customers. That way customers did not have to go around looking for other shops to buy such items and it helped limit movements of the public.

“We are trying to provide as efficiently as we can. Our country is doing its best and we are all grateful,” says Sonam. “After the 21 days lockdown was eased, it was comforting to see a bit of normalcy. By 2021 I hope everything will go back to normal and all of this will be behind us,” adds Sonam.

In the routine of closing her shop at 9 PM every night, Sonam hopes that she will be able be open it again the next morning.

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