Cost of living makes Christmas blue in the south

By Damith Wickremasekara

A Sunday Times survey revealed despite the improved security situation, the high cost of living and increase in prices of goods had a bearing on Christmas shoppers and traders in most parts of the country.The relaxing of security measures and the absence of security threats contributed to the increased movement of people.

Expecting higher sales, many traders in Pettah brought in extra stocks to meet the anticipated demand. However by Christmas eve they were complaining sales were down compared to previous years
C.L.B. Wickrematunga, 43, a payment hawker on Main Street in Pettah told the Sunday Times. “It is true there were more people on the streets and they were moving freely without apprehension as in the past. But, we found many people were only just walking along the streets, their purchasing power had dropped.

Though goods were plentifully available and large crowds moved freely, traders were badly hit this Christmas as people did not have cash to spend. Above shows a well stocked vegetable market, on left Christmas tree and fireworks sellers at rightand below a fruit and vegetable sellers. In the north the free movement of goods and people saw prices drop. At right the Jaffna bus halt. (Pics C.L.B. Wic-krematunge, Lakshman Jayawar-dena, Nazaar, Hiran and Gamini Mahadura and J. Weerasekera

“I have been in business for the past 25 years. Most of the time our businesses were affected because of the adverse security situation. This year we felt business would improve due to the improved security situation. But contrary to expectation business was down”,

Wickrematunga said this year he had brought Christmas decorations and New Year gift items for Rs. 500,000, though he usually brought items for only Rs. 300,000.

During the season my daily turnover amounts to more than Rs. 15,000 per day he said, but this year I only managed a turnover of Rs. 10,000 per day”, he added.

Many of the main shopping stores including the garment sale outlets in the city also drew smaller crowds during the final days ahead of Christmas.

Ms. Nilanthi Chandramala, a sales person at a garment store in Bambalapitiya told the Sunday Times she noticed people were buying much less compared to previous years. “I have been in the store for three years and noticed this time round people were buying a lesser number of items.

I think people cannot afford to buy too many things”, she said. Ms. Chandramala said usually the store was crowded in the final week before Christmas, but this year it was only on Christmas eve there were a large number of shoppers. On other days less people turned up she said.Sales of crackers and fireworks too were badly affected.

“We saw large numbers of people moving around, but that is not helping sales, as people were not buying items as they used to in the past” said M. Nazar, 23 a trader on Gas Works Street in Pettah. “I invested around Rs. 400,000 this year expecting increased sales of at least Rs. 6,000 per day. Unfortunately my turnover on an average has amounted to only Rs. 2,000 per day and that’s not enough to make a profit”, he said.

The cost of living also had a bearing on the sales of Christmas trees. Outside Townhall many sellers complained they failed to gain anticipated profits.

Lakshman Jayawardena 47, who has been in the business of selling Christmas trees over the past 25 years, told the Sunday Times unlike other sellers who brought down branches, he brought down trees which were planted in Nuwara Eliya and Bandarawela for this purpose and had them sent to Colombo during the season.

“We usually sell a small tree at Rs. 1,200, but this year people are demanding trees at Rs. 1,000. If I give it at that price the margin of profit would drop”, he said. “I had a daily turnover of Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 25,000 this year, but last year my turnover was over Rs. 30,000 per day”, he added.

In Kandy, traders said due to the vastly improved security situation, people were seen in the town, but traffic congestion had caused problems.

Most textile shops have been shifted to the main Peradeniya road causing traffic congestion.
Trader Wasantha Seneviratne 52, told the Sunday Times he did not see a big change in the sale of items of clothing this year, compared to previous years.

“We were expecting better sales. But I did notice a slight improvement”, he added. Mr. Chandana Nanayakkara, President of the Ruhunu Human Rights organization in Galle told the Sunday Times there was a sense of security prevailing in the country and people were enjoying the benefits of the peaceful atmosphere.

He added government should also address the issue of the cost of living. A retired military officer, Kumarasinghe Ariyasena –a resident of Kendala, Galle told the Sunday Times though the war had ended the cost of living issue had not been addressed by government.

S.S. Manivannan a businessman in the Puttalam town, told the Sunday Times compared to last Christmas season, this year had been extremely difficult as the prices had shot up.

“Last Christmas I bought a kg of Samba at Rs. 60. This year I am buying Nadu rice which is of a poorer quality at Rs. 70 a kg. Last year I remember buying a kg of capsicum at Rs. 40 per kg, but today (Thursday) I purchased 250 grams at Rs. 70.

Meanwhile, contrary to complaints from most people in southern areas of the country, residents in Jaffna told the Sunday Times prices of goods had dropped compared to wartime prices.

They said with the opening of the A9 road, the availability of electronic goods, essential food, hardware and general items had increased and prices had dropped. With the opening of the A9 road the movement of civilians had also increased and as a result business transactions had increased.

Other correspondents contributing to the story: Galle -Gamini Mahadura; Kandy -Shane Seneviraten; Puttlalam -Hiran Priyankara and Jaffna- N. Parameswaran.

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