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“It’s a Bargain, a Bargain… I Say, but only the Cold Wind Blows through the Market”

“It’s a Bargain, a Bargain… I Say, but only the Cold Wind Blows through the Market”

Posted December. 21, 2004 23:01,   


At 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon with the sun beginning to set, the market should have been filled with customers. Instead, the market was almost deserted. “Parka at a bargain!” Kim Seong-jin, director general of Small and Medium Business Administration, yelled at the top of his lungs. But all that was returned were apathetic looks from people walking by.

“I was extremely surprised at the lack of customers. Towards the end, I almost had to force people into my store. The end-of-the-year sales are completely fruitless.” These are the descriptions given over the phone to a Dong-a Ilbo reporter on December 21. Only with the help of celebrities and reporters participating in the event did some customers finally appear. On that day, Director General Kim sold five pairs of winter clothes, 20 training suits, and 10 pairs of jeans. The winter clothes with the original price tag of 50,000 won had been sold at 35,000 won. And that was only with the help of major celebrities. He even lost his voice in the process.

“My mother worked at the Youngdo market in Busan, selling dishes and pots to cover her education expenses until middle school. I have always known that traditional markets had been difficult in the past, but I also expected working conditions to have significantly improved since then. However, I learned that little has changed.” As other merchants noticed Director General Kim trying to attract customers from the street, they approached him and pleaded, “Please help me get some food so that I can survive.”

“I know of no one whose sales have increased from last year. Revenue has dropped between 30 to 40 percent. Although the government is doing all that it can within its power, it seems that the economy’s poor status cannot be helped. The sun must rise up high for the snow to melt.”

The reason that traditional markets are experiencing such difficulties lies in the poor economy, which leads to reduced spending from the low-income customers. Moreover, large-scale retailers take away many customers from the market by providing large discounts. The problems of the economy’s cyclic risks and the distribution industry have been combined into one.

“The trend is leaning towards modernization such as creating new parking areas and improving public restrooms. Although additional tax support schemes are in consideration, such solutions will yield little impact if the economy does not recover.”

Despite an unusually warm winter, Kim stated that he has felt chills from the wind through the market alleys. Perhaps the shadow of the recession covering these markets has made the director general cold.

“As a public servant, I have little to tell the merchants. However, please endure a bit longer. It is important not to lose courage and faith especially in difficult times.”

Ki-Jeong Ko koh@donga.com