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Features

More needn’t be merrier for sales, Park Street learns the hard way

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The Christmas and New Year carnival at Park Street has become a people’s festival over the past few years but the spike in footfall does not necessarily mean happy tidings for some of the restaurants on Calcutta’s iconic food street. At least four such places — family restaurants, not watering holes — said their business dropped up to 30 per cent at a time the footfall on Park Street had jumped manifold.

Dozens of stakeholders shared with Metro their observations on how the crush of people on Park Street has changed its year-end character in the past few years.

The traffic curbs — no parking and no alighting on the road — make it more challenging for the patrons, especially senior citizens, to visit their favourites.

A sizeable chunk of the revellers don’t come to Park Street to wine and dine.

They are more interested in doing multiple rounds of the road, under the canopy of lights, taking group pictures

Woh ruab nahi raha Park Street ka (Park Street has lost its sheen),” said the manager of one of the older restaurants that still enjoys a loyal fan base. He said the business during the festive season has gone down by 20-30 per cent.

His restaurant had downed the shutters around midnight on New Year’s Eve, with guests still inside, to “pre-empt the possibility of rowdy elements getting in”. The man thinks the rise in the number of revellers is bound to change the nature of the celebration.

An upscale Oriental restaurant said around 50 reservations were cancelled on Christmas. The reason — the diners were stuck in the snarls leading to the road.

According to police estimates, the crowd between Allen Park and JL Nehru Road on December 25 was well over 60,000 — nearly a full house at Eden Gardens — compared to a few thousands that turn up every weekend.

More than 500 policemen, led by officers in the ranks of deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners, were deployed to control the crowd.

The manager of a Chinese restaurant, which also enjoys a substantial fan base, said business had dipped by over 20 per cent during what used to be the biggest season for the area. “Many of our patrons said they cannot take the trouble of walking the extra mile through the huge crowd, he told Metro.

The traffic curbs on the big days and the barricades along the street mean that people have to walk to reach their favourite eatery. The stretch between Wood Street and Chowringhee Road was closed to traffic on December 25 evening. On December 24, 31 and January 1, cars moved on the stretch but alighting and parking on Park Street was not allowed.

A barricade was set up right in front of the restaurant for the big days. The movement of crowd was from Park Street towards Free School Street. People coming from the other way had to walk at least 700 metres extra through the surging crowd to get in.

Close to 300 people can dine together at the eatery — known for its fried chicken and kung pao lamb — but the waiters and staff are used to having serpentine queues for Christmas and New Year lunches.

Over the past few years, however, the queue has thinned. “Earlier, we needed hailers to manage the queue. Not any more, ” said the manager.

Not everyone is complaining though.

Some of the other restaurants said they still had a sizeable waiting crowd. A restaurateur who owns two eateries that have become synonymous with the road said his business has gone up, if anything. “In the 1960s, you could not have entered a Park Street restaurant on Christmas and New Year without dinner jackets. But change is inevitable and you have to welcome the change,” he said. The surge in crowd on the road outside has not stopped families, including scores of elderly people, to visit his restaurants, he pointed out.

The drinking dens were also chock-a-block throughout the big days.

The roadside joints on Free School Street selling momos, rolls and other fast food found it tough to handle the pressure of customers. “I lost track of the plates of chicken momos we sold on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It must have been over 700 each,” said the man at one of the stalls.

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