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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Shoppers’ stop at crumbling Firpo’s

The notice says: “Building unsafe. Keep safe distance”. But a placard inside the blasted arcade screams: “Welcome to Firpo’s grand reopening”.

After the great fire at Firpo’s market earlier this year, shopowners retrieved heaps of soiled garments from the debris of the building. The exposed steel beams inside had been twisted by intense heat and there was a gaping hole in the middle of the building, as if it had been struck by a meteorite. They vacated the building. The site was cordoned off for some time. But as is their wont, the police became lax and a few intrepid souls began to walk under the charred arcade.

But now that the Pujas are here, the shopowners are back with a bang to make a quick buck. Throwing caution to the wind they reopened their establishments along the arcade and the street leading to New Market about 15 days ago.

The burnt wooden framework on the ceiling of the arcade is masked with large plastic sheets but inside, the shops look brand new. About 14 of them have reopened though the United Bank of India branch is still closed.

They are all freshly painted and furnished. New wooden staircases lead to the wooden mezzanine floors and all the shops are well-stocked with clothes. Humming generators provide power supply.

Shopaholics don’t seem to mind risking their life and limb to indulge in the forbidden pleasure of buying things in a burnt-out market. Hordes of them have invaded Firpo’s. Hawkers have got the message. Not to be left out they, too, are back in business under the arcade. It is impossible to walk on the pavement without tripping on their ware. The shopowners are nonchalant.

Mohammad Humayun, president of the association of shopowners, claims that they had a structural stability test done by Jadavpur University which opined that the building was strong enough.

They have cleared the outstanding Corporation tax of about Rs 50-60 lakh. They have also notified the New Market police station as well as the Calcutta Municipal Corporation about the reopening.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee summarily dismissed all these claims. “There is nothing right about the structure. The Corporation can only take action with the help of the police. We have informed the police but they have not taken action yet. Perhaps they will do so after the Pujas,” he said.

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