The colourful Christmas stars, wreaths and baubles out in the shops of Sadar Bazar — Delhi’s largest wholesale market for household items — fail to mask the demonetisation gloom on the faces of its shopkeepers.
The sale of Christmas decorations is down by over 40% compared to previous years owing to the note ban, shopkeepers claim.
Be it corporates, schools, retailers, malls or government offices, all bulk orders for Christmas trees and decorations from across Delhi-NCR, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and even northeastern states are placed in this market.
But ever since the currency ban on November 8, the busy Sadar Bazar has seen a decline in footfall, shopkeepers say.
“Earlier, companies and malls used to buy items worth Rs 20,000 or more for Christmas. Now, it is down to Rs 8,000- Rs 10,000. Even if someone picks a lot of items, they say they will pay after 15-20 days,” says wholesaler Dayal Bhai, who has had just two customers on Friday.
Traders such as Dayal Bhai expected Christmas, the first festival after demonetisation, to boost trade. But with just a week left for the festival, they are not hopeful of sales picking up either.
“There is no cash in the market. How will business pick up?” he says.
Most of the decorations sold are imported from China, and wholesalers begin preparing for the season three months in advance.
“I placed an order for these items in September. By the time the containers arrived from Shanghai, Prime Minister Modi announced that old 500 and 1000 rupee notes are invalid. My entire consignment was stuck in customs for a good half a month as I had no money to pay the department,” says wholesaler SP Chawla, who has been in the business for 16 years.
He imported 5,500 cartons of stars, trees, santas dolls, tinsels, garlands, angles, stockings, bells, wreaths and so on. He has been able to sell only 1,800 so far.
“Usually, by this time, I am left with a thousand or so cartons. Sales start picking up by November end, but that’s not the case this time.”
Anticipating lukewarm business this year, another wholesaler Mahesh Dua asked his workers to make space in a godown to store the excess cartons from this year. Most of them do not even last a year, he says. “Either their colour fades or they break.”
Retailers, too, say they have no reason cheer this Christmas. “Our customers mostly buy to decorate their homes. So, the quantities were anyway less. On top of it, demonetisation happened. People are taking items worth Rs 250-300 and giving me a Rs 2,000 note. If I do not have change, then I lose even that income,” says Sudha, who has a party decoration shop in Lajpat Nagar.
Though a lot of wholesalers and retailers have tied up with e-wallets or have debit/credit card machines, it is the network or the machine that often fails them.
“ATMs do not have enough cash and banks don’t give money as per the permissible limit. People’s buying power has been completely killed. On top of that, my card swiping machine broke down and nobody has come to repair it for a week,” said an angry retailer, who did not want to be named.