Shopping – changing trend

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It is quite apparent that there is an abundance of tiny shops in the ground floor of most roadside buildings in Kathmandu. And most of those are seen to be selling almost the same range of kirana items in close proximity. This, obviously, raises the question of profitability. Traditionally most preferred venue to buy anything food has been Ason, many who have since migrated to the outskirts cannot do away with that habit.

Ason gets it hub like status due to convergence of six city core arteries. The environment is enhanced by the central open space, in contrast to the narrow converging lanes. It is further enhanced by the elevated dabalis and Annapurna’s temple. With people moving constantly in every direction it is not an easy place to be during rush hours. A typical small outlet there measures barely four feet deep. The shopkeeper is more perched than seated. While the shoppers bargain standing on the pavement, the keeper rarely needs to stand as most of the items are within the swing of his arms. With every nook and corner having been taken by permanent shopkeepers, the vegetable vendors settle for pavement patches during morning and evening hours. Basantapur and Mangalbazar used to be a lively vegetable market until these were moved to Ranamukteswor and Doubahal. While the one at Patan still survives, the former, built on Guthi Sansthan property, has long been displaced by a shopping complex. Left with no choice, the vegetable vendors now clog road in the surrounding neighborhood.

While the business is brisk in the core area, the same cannot be said of retail outlets elsewhere. The retail pattern in the surrounding region merely follows ribbon like extension of roads. But such extensions have very small catchment population and reflect negatively, trade wise. This is precisely what bedevils most small outlets in the peripheries. The owners cannot get good rent return so long as the shop does not sell well. Still quite many small outlets in the city are managed by the property owner themselves, supported by family members.

A big change in retail scene came by as hotels built in the mid-70s, during period of growth, were converted into shopping venues as tourist number fell. In principle, departmental stores buy at a cheaper bulk rate and transfer some gains to shoppers. They use varieties of non-intrusive methods in carving your desire for items on display. No one frowns as you examine or try things you wanted to check first hand. And no one forces you to buy anything as the result. The catch is, once smitten you will be coming back soon. But the Nepali version did not quite follow that concept and was always looked upon as an expensive place to go shopping for capital goods. Proper and custom-built department stores are coming up slowly and getting popular by the day.

With the city getting bigger, the shopping trend has gone through a change as well. People prefer pre-packed and -weighted items. Semi-cooked food items, requiring nothing more than boiling, are popular even if junk. The busy life helped by advertisement onslaught being the main reason behind their demands. Talking of changing attitudes, Fridays appear as if these are mandated evenings to head for bars and outside eateries. The number of eateries has grown substantially but, again, only few are seen to be doing good business. Others, as we hear, are happy being up front for unseen business of converting black money into white!

Because of increased vehicle ownership people venture for shopping beyond the neighborhood. “Parking” provisions became the most essential feature for any properly-run shopping outlets. But roadside eateries/shops act otherwise by compelling customers to opt for illegal parking or into narrow lanes. This naturally constricts flow of traffic and acts as a catalyst in creating jam to everyone’s discomfort.  

The question is whether the current demolition and road-widening spree will offer any solace to pedestrians and smoothen flow of vehicles? Or it just ends being “illegal parking made easy” while the traffic police conveniently looks the other way. Given the lack of seriousness and inherently poor monitoring capability it is the worst scenario that we are most likely to end with. The on-going work is not going to bring in tangible benefits notwithstanding the aspirations. No one can beat us in setting up the highest goal but we remain ever more unbeatable in achieving the lowest.

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