SINGAPORE - There will be no grand festivities for Deepavali this year, but crowds still descended on Little India on Sunday afternoon (Nov 1) to get their shopping done ahead of the upcoming celebrations on Nov 14.
However, shop owners and patrons told The Straits Times that the crowds paled in comparison with those of previous years.
With no trade fairs or festival villages organised this year, a small number of stalls belonging to existing shops have been set up in Campbell Lane.
Mr Rajkumar Chandra, president of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association, said there was no space available this year for temporary festive stalls, and existing stallholders were only allowed to sell their goods within their premises and at permitted areas.
"Those who have been vendors at bazaars have either given this year a miss or have resorted to online options. The online portal has helped many, but it cannot replace the experience of looking around and choosing items for themselves," he added.
Stallholders selling flowers, decorations and festive snacks said that the past two weekends have been packed with customers in the lead-up to Deepavali.
Mr Iqbal Raja, 49, who works at Bawa's Delicacy, a snack store selling traditional cookies, sweets and murukku (a popular, crunchy snack from India), said that while sales have been slow this year, the store has been garnering more interest online since the outbreak of Covid-19.
"More of our regular customers prefer shopping online, especially if they know what they want, but for newer customers, it's a 50-50 (chance). Some would still order online from us, (but) others prefer to taste the snacks before purchasing," he said.
The business, whose main branch is in Kerbau Road, has a temporary stall set up in Campbell Lane to attract the Deepavali crowds.
Over at Tekka Centre, Mr Vengatachalam Srinivasa, 36, who occasionally helps out with his family's business, Vanni's Tailoring, said that its revenue has fallen by around 20 per cent this year compared with last year, as more consumers have purchased their Deepavali outfits online.
Instead, the business, which offers custom-made Deepavali outfits and altering services, has been seeing more demand for the latter, as those who purchased ready-made outfits online have been looking to alter them so that they fit more comfortably.
But patrons told ST that the tactile experience of buying these items simply cannot be replaced by online shopping.
An engineer, who wanted to be known only as Ms Megha, 36, said that she usually does most of her shopping online but when it comes to Deepavali shopping, it is good to "walk around and be able to touch and feel things".
With smaller crowds this year, it has been easier for her to get her shopping done. But she felt that prices were a little higher than usual.
Similarly, Mr Gopalkrishnan Ranganathan said that he makes it a point to take his two boys to Little India at least once a year to bask in the Deepavali atmosphere and festivities.
"This year's ambience definitely isn't there, especially with many fewer stalls around. But when it comes to buying our Deepavali outfits, trying out the different foods and getting ornaments and decorations, we will still need to walk around and experience this first-hand," said the 50-year-old engineer.