Fear of the fu­ture freezes fes­tive sales

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS - By San­dun Jayawar­dana and Ka­sun Warakapi­tiya

Sharp rises in the prices of many goods and the un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal cri­sis are af­fect­ing busi­nesses at this crit­i­cal sales time of Christ­mas and the New Year.

Shop­pers say the ris­ing cost of liv­ing and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity have made them cau­tious about how they spend their money.

“I have worked here for 32 years and I have never seen a pe­riod as bad as this,” lamented K.P. Upatissa, an em­ployee at a re­tail clothes shop in Pet­tah.

Mr. Upatissa said the shop he works at used to have 10 em­ploy­ees. “Now, there are only two and even so we just sit around most of the day wait­ing for cus­tomers to turn up.”

With schools now closed for the hol­i­days and the com­mence­ment of the fes­tive sea­son, many toy ven­dors are set­ting up stalls around Pet­tah in any avail­able space they can find in the nar­row and busy streets.

The rapid de­pre­ci­a­tion of the ru­pee against the dol­lar has se­verely af­fected busi­ness, toy seller Zuhair Ameer, 48, said.

Point­ing to some toy cars on his stand, Mr. Ameer said, “These were sell­ing for Rs 750 only a few months ago. Their price has now gone up to be­tween Rs 850 to Rs 900.”

Whole­sale traders were charg­ing more for the goods, say­ing they needed to pay more to im­port them. A fa­ther of three chil­dren, Mr. Ameer is wor­ried about the fu­ture.

V. De­waku­mara, 31, who sells Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions, has also been hit by the fall in the ru­pee.

“I sold a small a pack of Christ­mas tree or­na­ments for Rs. 550 last year but when I bought it from the whole­sellers this year, it cost Rs. 750,” he said.

Mr. De­waku­mara said he was forced to sell the items at the old prices be­cause cus­tomers would not buy them at higher prices.

“There is no profit from this year’s Christ­mas sea­son. There are fewer cus­tomers buy­ing items from us in com­par­i­son to last year,” he said.

Mr. De­waku­mara is the sole provider for his fam­ily – his wife, three chil­dren and un­cle and aunt – and ad­mit­ted he was find­ing it hard to earn enough to sup­port them.

The re­tail­ers’ woes are feed­ing through to the whole­salers. Whole­sale cloth seller Velusami Ananda, 55, who has been trad­ing in Pet­tah for 20 years, said cus­tomers used to stream in from the time he opened his doors at 8am. “Now, we strug­gle to at­tract cus­tomers even by mid­day,” he dis­closed.

V.K. Sun­dar, who works at a nearby whole­sale shop sell­ing chil­dren’s clothes, said there are only one or two buy­ers a day now whereas there used to be about 10 a day pre­vi­ously.

A shop spe­cial­is­ing in women’s footwear is also do­ing poorly. With the rail­way sta­tion and the main city bus stand be­ing so close, many shop­pers from out­side Colombo fre­quent this shop – but now they are not spend­ing much.

“Peo­ple are scared to spend a lot as the dol­lar rate keeps climb­ing,” an em­ployee said. “A cus­tomer who used to buy three pairs of shoes is only buy­ing one pair now.”

“Many women from the out­sta­tions come to Pet­tah to buy saris and other items for wed- dings and other func­tions. They stop here to buy their shoes, but that crowd has dwin­dled in re­cent times,” an­other em­ployee added.

An­other street vendor, Mo­hammed Fa­zly, 46, sells plas­tic Christ­mas trees from Novem­ber un­til the New Year, when he re­verts to sell­ing chil­dren’s school items.

He said the cost of trees had risen by as much as Rs. 750 com­pared to last year. “But we sell the trees at a much lower amount,” he said. Thank­fully, sales have been steady so far, and Mr. Fa­zly ex­pects them to pick up as Christ­mas draws closer.

Cus­tomers are cau­tious over spend­ing. Pushpa Subas­inghe, 44, was in Pet­tah with her chil­dren to pur­chase school items such as shoes, note­books and bags. Ms Subas­inghe said they were care­ful about their spend­ing and found prices of such items to be a lit­tle lower com­pared to last year.

Price con­trols and the de­pre­ci­a­tion of the ru­pee are not be­ing ad­dressed due to the po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty, a hus­band and wife who re­quested anonymity said.

“Peo­ple only go fes­tive shop­ping if they have money with them. To cel­e­brate there must be money” the cou­ple pointed out.

Shop­pers say the ris­ing cost of liv­ing and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity have made them cau­tious about how they spend their money. Pix by M.D. Nis­sanka

Pet­tah: Tis the sea­son for Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions

V.K. Sun­dar

K.P. Upatissa

Mo­hammed Fa­zly

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