A shopping desert. Central Bangkok’s small merchants are in danger of going under despite the area remaining dry as customers disappear. While northern Bangkok and Thon Buri struggle underwater, the heart of the capital’s business and shopping district remains bone dry.
But don’t say the flooding has not made itself felt _ small business owners in Siam Square are complaining that sales have dropped off the cliff in recent weeks due to the crisis.
“You want to know why customers have disappeared?” asks Piyachat Bonmarg, a saleswoman at the Remixx clothing store in Siam Square Soi 3.
“See for yourself. Who would want to climb over these sandbags? They’re so high, and our shoppers like to wear high heels, so they won’t come in.”
Siam Square and its tightly packed shops have served young Bangkok fashionistas for generations.
While many say they are unsure whether the flooding will reach the area, no one wants to take a chance _ sandbags cluster across many entrances and walkways in the cramped alleyways of the shopping area.
“I sold just one dress today,” said Ms Piyachat, sweeping her hand across an array of more than 30 party gowns and dresses.
“Customers are not buying anything new. Many are even waiting to pick up their already-tailored dresses.”
She estimates some 30% of the shops in the area have closed outright, while operating hours for the rest have become erratic.
“Everyone has been affected … staff, owners and customers alike. Many shops have had to close because their staff cannot get to work. Others have closed because their owners don’t want to take the risk,” Ms Piyachat added.
At the 2 Jeans shop in Little Siam Lane, 42-year-old Danun Settakarn said business was off by 70%.
“I have to sell at least 180,000 baht’s worth to live and cover rent and salaries. Right now, I’m selling only about 20,000 baht’s worth,” she said. “The floods are definitely eating into my earnings.”
October-December is usually the high season for Siam Square. Not this year.
Ms Danun predicts business will be weak for months to come.
“Even after the water recedes, people won’t be in any mood to shop. They’ll need the money to rebuild their homes,” she said.
Sujitra Saengbun, a jewellery seller in Soi 3, noted that traffic had actually picked up early in the crisis as residents avoided travel upcountry.
“But people began disappearing last week, and those who do come have stopped spending. People are saving their money as they see the floodwater creeping closer and closer,” she said.
For workers paid by commission, the decline in business and the threat of flooding to their own homes is a double whammy.
Somjai Buthaamphai, the 48-year-old owner of a clothes and cosmetics shop in Siam Square Soi 1, said revenue has fallen by half in recent weeks.
“We’ve been closed a lot. Everyone is afraid of the floods and has stocked up on food and other essentials. No one is spending on trifles like ours,” she said, pointing to the colourful makeup kits on display.
“We understand what the customers are thinking, because it’s the same as we are.”
Some shops have turned to slashing prices to move their inventory and generate a little cash flow.
Wanida Suklueng in the Ummbun shop in Little Siam Lane says she routinely offers discounts to help out cash-strapped customers.
“I’m a bit lucky, since my clothes are relatively cheap and not the latest fashions. There are many flood victims who need clothes now,” she said. “At this hour, we must help them and cannot think only of profits.”
Walking around Platinum Fashion Mall in the Pratunam area not too far away, one can see signs offering discounts of 50-70%. But still business owners complain of declining sales as bad as in Siam Square.
“Since the floods, our customer numbers have dropped by more than half,” said Satit Yoorungruang, a T-shirt salesman in the eight88eight shop.
“We make most of our sales to wholesalers coming from the suburbs and upcountry. But their stores have flooded, so who’s going to buy? It’s a chain reaction.”
Kay Panipat in the Kick Your Eyes clothing store agreed.
“Even customers from unaffected areas are not buying, because they cannot get goods delivered,” she said.
Most major thoroughfares leading north out of Bangkok are blocked due to flooding in Don Muang and Laksi districts and Ayutthaya province.
For travel to the south, many main bridges across the Chao Phraya River have been blocked, although the Rama II Bridge remains open for now, but most likely not for long.
The transport disruptions are affecting not only customer deliveries but also shipments of raw materials and finished products from factories across the country.
Tim Napat, a seller at Richie Rich, which specialises in evening gowns and wedding dresses, said the worldwide coverage of the Thai floods has affected foreign orders, with sales down by nearly 60%.
“Our big customers from Dubai, Indonesia, Malaysia and Europe have all disappeared. I think they became alarmed after they heard the news about the floods and several governments issued travel warnings. Some probably think Bangkok is completely inundated,” he said.
“Last year, we had to shut down completely due to the red-shirt riots. We thought business would be better this year, but no.”
Source: Bangkok Post