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Bentick Street Chinese Shoe Shops

even a few years ago, shoes from good old chinese shops were in great demand among middleclass puja shoppers. strappy sandals, stilettos, block heels, ballerinas were big draws in the women’s section while formal and informal shoes in myriad styles and colours attracted all-budget buyers in the men’s section.

lim brothers, new fo, athin and ahfun, once bustling shoe stores on bentinck street, are now gasping for survival. there are very few clients apart from officegoers who step in to window-shop rather than splurge. teenagers, the bulk of the shoppers at any puja, seldom choose a shoe from these stores these days. “we will be forced to leave this business soon because there are no buyers,” the shop-owners said.

In the 70s, there were about 265 chinese shoe shops in the city, particularly, on bentinck street catering to every taste and wallet. today the number has dwindled to 40. most of these shop-owners blame the poor work culture of the state for the vanishing business. “we used to employ cobblers as also salesmen. but, they were more busy agitating for wage increase than concentrating on their work. it was not possible for us to bear that kind of price hike. so we were forced to do away with them,” said kim and other shoe-sellers of bentinck street.

On the other hand, the queues outside snazzy shoe stores in places like lindsay street and chowringhee are growing. air-conditioned showrooms, swanky interiors, state-of-the-art technology and brand identity have taken these shoes steps ahead of the humble chinese variety. add to that the glossy ads on televisions and in the print media promoting the desi and international brands. till the 80s, it was the day of bata shoes. the chinese shoe-sellers had a competitor only in this company. those who found the bata prices a bit too steep, settled for the china bazaar variety.

But with the entry of foreign brands and the upsurge of local brands like khadim’s and sreeleathers everything changed. with lucrative schemes and aggressive marketing, the glossy brands had arrived and lured customers away. “the chinese shoes are not so trendy like the branded ones. i think they need to keep pace with the changing time. prices normally start from rs 400 in a chinese store. whereas people can buy a trendy branded pair for rs 300,” felt bikram burman, a customer. on the eve of puja, when sales of a desi brand have crossed the rs 50 lakh mark, the bentinck street profit has barely touched rs 5,000.

source: Times of India