Deepavali bazaar vendors hit by higher rents, drop in footfall; shoppers unhappy about lack of variety
Drink and snack vendor G. Shanti was expecting brisk sales at her bazaar stall in Little India in 2023 but she has had to cut the price of her wares by 40 per cent in the hopes of pulling in the crowds.
Speaking to The Straits Times on Oct 26, she said although business tends to pick up between Friday and Sunday, she took the leap and marked down the prices of the more popular snacks to reel in customers.
Ms Shanti, who declined to give her age or her full name, now sells a $20 jar of suji or semolina biscuits for $15. A container of the traditional fried murukku snack was $14 but now goes for $10.
“Often, people don’t buy the snacks. They get hungry from walking around, take our free samples and leave without buying,” she said.
Several vendors at the bazaar said that on weekdays, they notched up an average of just 10 customers daily. The annual bazaar is a highlight in the weeks leading up to Deepavali, which falls on Nov 12 in 2023.
The bazaar in Birch Road runs from Oct 14 to Nov 11, and is organised by Singapore Night Bazaar (SNB).
Henna artist Shamini said she is expecting sales to rocket as the Festival of Lights inches closer, but until then, she is selling children’s clothes to supplement her takings.
She said: “Henna fades off within one to two weeks of application. People who would like to have their hands stained by henna would usually get theirs done during the week before Deepavali so that it lasts for the festive period.”
She said she hopes to make enough to be able to pay the $5,000 rent for the stall, not including $500 for electricity, and another $250 for things like metal brackets for the stall, which is about 3m wide.
Another vendor who is optimistic is Madam Kalai, who sells Deepavali decorations. “I think that business will pick up in the next two weeks leading up to Deepavali,” she said.
Rentals have gone up by at least $500 since last year, she added but her stall this year is more spacious, which means people are able to browse her wares better, and that means chances of making a sale are higher.
In response to queries, SNB said it charges vendors between $4,000 and $6,000 for each unit. The rental rate is lower than that charged at the Geylang Serai Raya Bazaar, which went as high as $19,000 a booth in 2023.
SNB added that more than 90 per cent of the 200 booths have been rented out, but when ST visited the bazaar on Saturday, fewer than 170 booths were open for business. Many booths were vacant, including the ones with claw machines.
There was another Deepavali bazaar in 2023 called Zak Salaam India, which was held at the Singapore Expo and ran from Oct 26 to Oct 29.
A stallholder at Bhavani Costumes, who would only give her name as Indu, said she relishes the challenge of improving on her takings last year, and put her entrepreneurial skills to the test.
“I am hopeful the situation will change. Even if it is difficult now, I want to challenge myself to overcome this, break even and make a profit. That is why I opened a stall in the Deepavali Bazaar,” she added.
Knight Frank retail head Ethan Hsu said the Deepavali bazaar’s target market is the Hindu community in Singapore, which makes up about 5 per cent of the total population, not including non-Hindu ethnic Indians and tourists.
That is why the limited customer base has become a key challenge in driving footfall to the bazaar, he added. Also, Mr Hsu said, footfall alone does not translate into sales because visitors can choose not to buy anything.
With a wide variety of cheaper merchandise and food available nearby, as well as on online platforms, the vendors at the bazaar have to compete hard to make sales, he added.
“For vendors to do well at such events, they will need to understand who their customers are, what they are looking for and meet those expectations faster and better than their competitors can,” he said.
Despite these challenges, “from past experience, the footfall may improve and get better as it gets closer to Deepavali”, Mr Hsu added.
The Hindu Endowments Board (HEB), which organised the bazaar with Moulmein-Cairnhill CC and the Tamil Language and Cultural Society, said the operator of the Deepavali bazaar was selected through an evaluation process. SNB was awarded the contract to manage the bazaar due to its experience and clean record.
Shoppers who spoke to ST at the bazaar on Thursday and Saturday said one major grouse is the lack of variety on offer.
Mrs Suchitra Renga, who is in her 50s and a mother of two teenagers, said she was disappointed.
She said: “My girls refused to select anything in the bazaar. They just did not like the range. I, too, could not find anything that I liked.”
She added that the 2023 bazaar lacked a festive atmosphere, unlike in the previous years she visited. In the end, she and her daughters left without buying anything.
Software engineer Rajkumar Krishna, 36, said he was not very happy with the variety of food available in the bazaar when he went on Saturday evening.
At 2022’s bazaar, he said he could buy all sorts of food, including burgers and pani puri, a street food of fried puff pastry filled with spiced potatoes. On Saturday, he managed to find only the Indian snack vadai.