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Olympic sellers surrender to market forces

Olympic sellers surrender to market forces

T he new Olympic Market is open and functioning, but vendors are still pessimistic about whether they will make money.

The old Olympic Market was completely closed on the government's deadline to the vendors - Aug 30.

Several hundred vendors, mostly bulk second-hand clothes sellers quietly dismantled the last remaining stalls under the eyes of a mixed group of civil police, military police and soldiers.

The nearly year-long dispute between the vendors and the government, and the Thai Boon Roong Company. which built the new market building, ended quietly and without tension.

The remaining vendors from the old site say that they will transfer to Boeung Keng Kong Market, now partially flooded. The vendors were given an Aug 30 deadline by Royal Government decree to come to terms with the new market or face losing their right to pay monthly rent for stalls there.

In the new building, the first two floors of the market are in use, the third blocked off. The market boasts the only escalators in Cambodia but they are not yet operational. The streets outside the market are being resurfaced, as traffic patterns have been altered to accomodate the increase in vehicles.

About 60 percent of the floor space is already occupied.

Vendors have been selling for as little as a week and as much as a month. Vendors are from the old market, have moved in from other markets, or are first timers.

Vendors at the old site by the Olympic Stadium claimed they should be given free stalls at the new site. This was never conceded by Thai Boon Roong or the government. However TBR did eventually concede the right of registered vendors from the old site to rent space in the new building, rather than having to buy it, as newcomers do.

Hun Heng is a sandwich maker, she paid $6,500 up front for a porcelain topped corner location in the center of the first floor. She is one of the "new" vendors, thus she had no right to rent her location. She came from O-Russei market, where she has left her sister to sell sandwiches.

Heng said: "I am making less money here than at O'Russei. "

"Many of my friends want to buy stalls but they have no money, they want to rent but they have no right.

"I do not pay for maintenance or security, because I leave nothing here at night," she said.

One vendor who declined to give her name said: "I work from 6:00 am to 4:30 pm. When asked whether she was making money, she said: "We cannot say anything yet, we do not know if we will make a profit.

"Most of the old vendors came to the new market, but some of them sold their rights to other vendors.

"I like the new market. It is neat, and it is clean. I can lock up my goods here at night," she said.

Hem Saran is an old vendor who sells fruit. She is paying $13 a month rent for her sales area. "We don't know whether we can make money. Some of the other fruit sellers have not come in, because they do not know if we can make money or not. One problem is that there are fruit sellers in front of the Olympic Stadium, they can sell outside, and people do not need to come in to buy fruit."

The only man that was interviewed was a policeman who was setting up the stall for his wife. Almost all the venders in the market are women. "The man must go out and find the goods to sell and the woman can spend the whole day here trying to sell," the policeman said.

"The old market was dirty. But sales here are worse. Some old vendors sell outside and people do not come inside. The best thing is if they can be stopped from selling outside."

Lay So Khom and his wife are new vendors who spent $17,000 to buy two adjoining stalls to sell candy and cookies. They are bulk sellers whose customers are provincial and local salesmen. "We used to sell at Psaa Jah three years ago, we do not think that we can make as much money as the stall costs. But we make enough to eat."

Khom says that he cannot start selling something else. The area that he is in is designated as an area for the sale of cookies, and if he wanted to change to a different product, he would have to change his location in the market.

One cigarette vendor from the old site, who declined to be identified, said she had elected to buy a stall after being displeased with the rental stall she was assigned in the lottery organized by Thai Boon Roong.The stall that she had bought had been reserved for new vendors.

"One hundred and twelve stalls are for the old vendors, more than 100 stalls were reserved for the new vendors," she said.

When asked if sales here were better than at the old market she said: "Some locations at the old market were good, and some were bad. Here [at the new market] some are good and some are bad. I have a good location." She also wore diamond earrings, gold bracelets, and a mobile phone lay on the counter in front of her.

"I am happy that I came here," she said.

A woman, who sells new items of clothing and blankets said: "The lottery assigned me a location on the second floor, but I wanted to be on the first, so I am renting from a vendor who bought this stall, but who is not using it. He bought it for $13,000.

This vendor and her friends all argued that it was unfair for the second-hand clothes vendors and the new clothing vendors to mixed together. Further, they said that the door to the outside was closed so the customers went to other parts of the market. "That makes it hot here, and the atmosphere is bad. Sometimes the electricity goes out and we have to use candles or lamps," she said.

Vannarin is a graduate of a medical school whose family runs a jewelry counter. He moved from Tuol Toom Boong market and paid $14,000 for his counter for 15 years. "We are not certain that we will make money, but we are trying." He sells gold bracelets for around $100 and necklaces by their weight in gold."

The gems that they sell come from Burma.

All the vendors confirmed that they were being charged 200 riel each day by collectors from the Municipality of Phnom Penh. This was a 100 riel increase over the pheasy (sales tax) that they paid at the old market. In addition they are paying taxes to the Finance Ministry, depending on the kind of goods being sold.

Another jewelry vendor had a small glass enclosed counter for which she pays $200 in rent per month. She had been in the old Olympic Market until 1986 when jewelry sellers were forced out by the government. They were therefore not registered as old market vendors and had no right to rent a stall. But even selling on the street across from the old market, she and other jewelry salespeople were paying $150-$200 a month rent to homeowners for a spot of pavement to set up their pitch.

One old vendor, on the second floor, is in an area that sells textile products, but she is also selling cosmetics. "If I do not do this I will not make enough money."

"I have been here more than one month, I have not earned enough money to rent the stall. It is very quiet here, but the competition is greater because there are more vendors."

"Though I paid no money at the old market [for my stall], here I am paying $61 a month."

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