India Square, the popular South Asian marketplace in Jersey City, is set two reopen on June 15, but owners believe the market’s future is bleak.
“It’s so bad here. The entire market has incurred a monthly loss to the tune of $4 to $5 million,” said Raju Patel, the president of Travel World, a travel agency and president of the Jersey City Asian Merchant Association, an advocacy group for local Asian-owned businesses.
Located along a one-mile stretch on Newark Avenue, India Square has about 95 outlets that range from Indian restaurants and jewelry stores to bars and grocery shops. About 10% of Jersey City’s population is Indian American, a major contributing factor to the thriving businesses at India Square.
Once a bustling market thronged by hundreds of patrons every day, it’s now deserted. High rents and few customers due to the coronavirus, has created huge losses. Store owners said it would take them a over a year to recover losses incurred during the three-month shutdown.
Patel’s travel and tour business has done no business since mid-March.
“Who do you think will travel even after the government reopens?” asked Patel.
The restaurants at India Square have also taken a hit. They didn’t do any business in April. Although many of them started takeout and delivery services in May, their sales were only about 20-25%.
“We won’t see even a nominal increase in the revenue when we reopen,” said Satinder Saggar, the owner of Rasoi, a restaurant.
“Why would people come out and eat when there is a threat of the coronavirus?”
Before the pandemic, Rasoi saw about 70 to 80 patrons on weekdays and over 150 people visited the restaurant on weekends. But business in May dropped 75%.
“How can a restaurant survive with only 25% of business after making no money for two months? We will survive because we are old in the business,” said Saggar who owns two other restaurants in Jersey City and New York City.
In phase two of reopening, restaurants are allowed to have only outdoor sitting . None of the restaurants at India Square have outdoor space so they will continue to have to depend on takeouts and deliveries.
Sagar said when Rasoi reopens he would be able to hire back only seven of the 12 employees he had before the outbreak.
Many business owners said they are pinning their hopes on a vaccine to salvage their businesses.
Some jewelry stores at India Square are facing closure.
“Why would someone buy jewelry during this time? With wedding and other functions being postponed and canceled there is no chance we will get sales,” said Wahid Akbari, 48, who owns Sara Jewelry.
The only stores thriving are the square’s grocery stores.
“The only thing we worry about is the supply chain that might get affected due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in India,” said Sushma Patel, 41, owner of Apna Bazaar grocery store.
Jayesh Modi, who owns a home appliances store, said that the Paycheck Protection Program loan, a forgivable loan program introduced by the coronavirus stimulus bill, wouldn’t be of much help if stores don’t do business.
“I got a $15,000 loan. It can help me survive for a while but I need business,” Modi said. “Never have I seen such destruction. Let’s see how many stores reopen on June 15. Some might never(reopen). India Square won’t be the same again.