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Punjab Indian Market Adapts to Face Challenging COVID-19 Environment

Punjab Market is popular among the local Far East and Southeast Asian communities. Photo by Dominic Tovar.

Location

San Gabriel , CA

In the midst of this ongoing pandemic, San Gabriel’s Punjab Indian Market and Cuisine is trying to keep its doors open while facing new challenges, like many other small businesses.

The two brothers who own and run the place, Amandeep and Tarlochan Singh, are showing their trademark resilience as they strive to keep their business open. 

At the same time, they are worried about their customers. They need their steady clientele to survive and while they have concerns for their customers well being, they are also anxious that the virus not be brought into the store with them.

While local, state and federal authorities are urging most everyone to stay home, the brothers’ business is deemed essential so they keep working.

All recommended safety measures have been implemented, and customers are educated to “keep a social distance,” “use sanitizer and glove,” while avoiding “touching items in the store that they will not buy.” These guidelines are posted prominently at the entrance of their Las Tunas Ave. location. In addition, a sheet of clear plastic stands in front of the counter to provide a shield between customers and employees.

Punjab Grocery has reduced its hours of operation from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., to now 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. They are closed on Mondays. Like all other restaurants, they are only doing take out orders, but customers also often come to stock up on groceries. Tarlochan reports restaurant sales as being 50% lower than usual, since people are cooking at home more. Despite this, their menu remains the same as before the restrictions, as they do not have a shortage of supplies. 

The restaurant has retained its seven employees and their efficiency in completing take-out orders has not been impacted. However, the employees’ working hours have been reduced due to the slower business. But the take out aspect of the business, with orders placed by phone, has allowed workers to avoid prolonged exposure to the public.

Unfortunately, the economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic are also beginning to impact their grocery section. Currently, the grocery sales are down by 25% compared to normal days. At the onset of the “Safer at Home” order they had good sales due to the influx of customers who came to stock up.

However, now they are facing a shortage of supplies, specifically staples, such as daal (lentils), rice and flour. Their local suppliers have also run low on product inventory, and are waiting for shipments from India. However, last week, India went into lockdown, so the brothers are unsure when they will be able to restock the products that they source from India, an important feature in making authentic Indian food. They are concerned that they have no control over the outcome of this supply issue and that the consequences will become increasingly severe with the passage of time.  

Tarlochan, the younger brother, sees some hope in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act stimulus bill, the $2 trillion dollar rescue package that was recently passed by Congress, and signed by President Trump in March.

“I think it will help, because everyone needs a little hand at the moment,” he said.

Many of the customers who frequent Punjab Indian Market are members of the local Sikh community. They, too, have had to make adjustments during the current crisis.

While the Sikh community is not gathering at the Gurdwara in Alhambra, they are still striving to do whatever they have learned from their religion. There are some local groups providing langar, the traditional term for free food, to those in need. Recently, in Riverside County, the Sikh community served food from a truck. Serving langar is a long established tradition in the Sikh community and they are rising to the occasion during the COVID-19 crisis even though they themselves are hurt financially. This is happening in the United States, Canada and also in India. 

Tarlochan mentioned that Punjab an area spanning part of Pakistan and northern India, the birthplace of Sikhism, is under lockdown, but people are serving free food to the poor villagers whose livelihood and lives are at stake. At the moment, the brothers’ father and mother are both in their home village in Punjab. The father is working with the local council to ensure that the community understands the danger of the virus, and to practice social distancing precautions.

Like most people, Amandeep and Tarlochan have never experienced anything like the COVID-19 crisis in their lifetime. Fortunately, their willingness to adapt to the changing climate has allowed them to retain their loyal clientele. Instead of feeling disheartened, the brothers view this time as an opportunity to fulfill their religious tenet, and provide comfort food for the people who are quarantined inside their homes. 

PUNJAB Indian Market and Cuisine

618 W. Las Tunas Blvd.

San Gabriel, Calif.

91775

626-576-0749

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