19th December 1999

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Seasonal sellers

By Avinda Amaratunga

A common sight for most motorists and pedestrians travelling past Duplication Road and the Thunmulla Junction in Bambalapitiya are the little stalls selling seasonal decorations and adornments.

Most of us pass them with barely a glance. But come Christmas, it is difficult to ignore the brightly painted dried flowers and other silver or gold arrangements they sell.

Jinapala, the owner of a small in-house business said that he is employed full-time as a labourer at the Department of Railways. So it is his wife who runs this business single-handed.

From a pavement table she has developed the business to a portable cart in which she sells the Christmas decor. A unique effort made under the blazing heat and sometimes pouring skies.

Dried paddy, pine cones, dried flowers plants and leaves are all dyed and painted at their home. These unfinished materials are brought from outstation areas like Nuwara Eliya and Hatton. Some of their decorations are made of a Sinhalese medicinal plant, Ethana.

Their customers are from both the middle and upper class of society. Jinapala and his wife provide bouquets for weddings, decorative items for Christmas, vases, cakes etc. A profitable day in the festive season can bring them an income of Rs. 1000 or be as low as Rs. 250 on an off-season day. Their monthly costs include payment for the cart they have rented and the money deducted in the 12.5% GST payment. Though a very small profit remains, it's money nevertheless. Jinapala said that his wife had taken a loan from Suwan Rekiya to help maintain the business even when profits are low.

Unsold goods are kept for the next Christmas season. These non-perishable items can be kept for a maximum period of four to five years.

The price of a bunch of these painted flowers or leaves is around Rs. 30 and over.

Another small business owner said that profits vary from day-to-day. "There are good days and there are bad days, the challenge is to survive.

"A day's sales can never be forecast, it just depends on your luck," he said.

This salesman's goods range from dry, painted Rata Del leaves to other similar decorations like Jinapala's.

He also said that even though flowers are brought from distant places, they are still scarce during the season as many people engage in this business.

Victor, another businessman has a larger operation, taking orders for weddings and special occasions requiring bouquets and decorative ornaments.

When we visited him he was throwing away a beautiful but soaked bouquet of flowers. They have to throw away anything that gets wet as the paint and dye get ruined, he told us.

Sheets of polythene provide little protection from the elements but these are people who won't give up, come rain or sunshine.

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