Arat Kilo, like a few other places in Addis, is hosting a bazaar by the Micro & Small Enterprise community. Enterprises that produce leather and cotton products, traditional clothing – some with a modern twist, furniture, and cooking ingredients in nearby SME manufacturing hubs are participating.
For many enterprise owners, the open-air bazaars are the only platforms they have to sell their craft. Tadelech Kore, of Tadelech Textiles, is one such person.
Since the last bazaar she had attended in early September for the Ethiopian New Year, she has been working on production. She hunts down bigger textile companies that put their unused textiles on sale, and uses those to make tank tops and children’s outfits.
Cutting the fabrics takes the longest time, she says, and after that, she uses two to four types of sewing machine before they are presented for sale. If she gets enough textiles, she says she can make up to a hundred outfits a week by herself.
“Christmas markets generally favour children’s products,” she said, sharing her almost decade-long experience in exhibitions.
Giving testament to her word are passers-by that ask for the prices of the children’s clothes on offer. A group of men walk by, and one of them, Michael Abdo, approaches the booth and leaves with a small bundle for his six year old son in Dire Dawa. He purchased a t-shirt and shorts set for 35 Br which will be presented to his son before Christmas day next Friday.
“I thought both the price and quality were great,” he said.
His friend, Teklebirhan G. Hiwot, concurred, as he had just bought shoes – leather flats – for his wife from the neighbouring stall.
On Tuesday, the second day of the bazaar, vendors were already weary.
Martha Bekelle is manning her aunt’s booth, and in the two days she has done so, she has not sold a single shoe.
“It is because our customers will not get their salaries until the end of the month – days after the holidays,” another worried vendor said. “So Christmas is generally slower.”
The slow pace of sales is not peculiar to the bazaar at Arat Kilo. Vendors at the Exhibition Centre in Mesqel Square have similar misgivings, but cite other reasons.
“Easter exhibitions are usually the slower ones,” says Ahmed, a seasoned carpet vendor. “But this year buyers are scarce even now.”
He had first started exhibitions when rent was 8,000 Br. It is now 47,000 for a 3m x 3m indoor booth.
The price increases do not seem to have deterred traders, however, as over 400 merchants have filled the Centre, and half way through the 21 day programme, over a 120,000 entrance tickets have been sold at the door.
Eyoha Entertainment & Events, who are running the exhibition for the fist time, claim to have spiced it up.
“In addition to the three metre wide custom-made painting of the Ethiopian map, and the 12m tall Christmas tree by the door,” Birhanu Abegaz told Fortune, ”we give free dancing lessons everyday at 10:00am and in the early evening, various dance groups compete for a prize.”
There are also performances such as those by the Debre Birhan Circus Group. For 10 consecutive days, the Group had performed live on the streets of Addis, promoting the Bazaar.
The change in management has not gone unnoticed.
“I don’t like the new ones,” one vendor said. “Though they are not bad for first timers, the operation is still not smooth.”
He complained that they had been asked to pay 10,000 Br in advance by September to secure their place at the Christmas Bazaar, and must now pay the same amount to be able to come back for Easter.
On the other hand, Jishan Ahmad of Zoy Impex, who, along with his brother, organized and brought nine companies from India and the Philippines, thinks Eyoha is “awesome.” They had promoted his booths for free, the largest number of booths rented to a single entity, on the Bazaar’s entertainment stage.
He has experience taking Indian vendors to bazaars all over Africa, from Madagascar to Morocco, and from Togo to Tanzania. This is his fourth Ethiopian Bazaar. Even though he described the Ethiopian market as generally “not good,” compared to other African markets, even he maintains that the small amount of sales has him worried this year.
Some vendors of kitchenware agreed. Dawit Gebre could not figure out why, but he said business was not as before.
Other vendors thought it was because their prospective visitors had gone to the new exhibition at the Millennium Hall, which is hosting its first Christmas Exhibition this year. St. George Sports Club is celebrating its 80th anniversary, and has organised this bazaar to raise funds.
“It is well ventilated,” said Selamawit Haile of the venue as she was browsing through the isles, “it’s not congested like the Exhibition Centre, and this one looks nice.” She also thought the wares on display had “some quality, but not much.”
Her friend Kuku Lemera, was there for the second time. The first time she came she had bought decorative furniture runners for 600Br. She thought it was expensive, as that amount bought her two items only, but she purchased them regardless because of their quality.
Contrary to what some vendors at the Exhibition Centre had speculated, vendors at Millennium were also feeling the pinch.
A retailer of kitchenware who has a shop in Merkato in addition to regularly participating bazaars was worried. Though she paid less for her booth, 24,000Br instead of the 43,000Br, she would have paid at the Exhibition Centre, she regretted her choice, and doubted that she would recover her expenses.
The Millennium Exhibition now has 213 vendors, from real estate companies to furniture stores, and from Vodka retailers to diaper distributors. In addition, there is a game zone for teenagers, play area for children on the weekends, and 83 artists who are lined up to entertain the crowd each evening.
There are also various artistic products on sale, including a painting by Lulseged Retta titled ‘People’s Victory’. A representation of one of Ethiopia’s victories at CECAFA, Council of East and Central Africa Football Association, will be auctioned with an opening bid of 100,000Br – a price that has already been offered.
Despite all this, however, Fortune met two ladies who wished not to be named, on their way out of the bazaar. They vehemently claimed that the whole experience was a waste of the 25Br admission fee, and that there was nothing worth seeing or doing.
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