The lanterns are hung, red packets have been passed around and lunar couplets pasted on the walls: Chinese New Year has begun.
But while the 15-day celebration kicked off yesterday, business this year for vendors selling Chinese New Year gifts has been anything but festive.
“Business this year hasn’t been very good,” admitted Chen Zhi Feng, 54, who runs a small Chinese New Year goods shop near O’Russey market.
“I would say it’s 10 to 20 per cent lower than other years,” he told the Post in a recent interview.
Zhi Feng’s shop is located in one of the busy lanes leading out from O’Russey market. On the same street are numerous other shops selling hampers of food, lanterns and the ubiquitous red envelopes for money.
All the shopkeepers the Post spoke to echoed Zhi Feng’s sentiments.
The pinch, they said, is because the shopping season – which usually begins a month before the festival – coincided with the King Father’s mourning period this year.
The sombre mood has taken its toll on shoppers’ Chinese New Year spending habits, said Zhi Feng. “People are spending less and buying fewer gifts.”
The roadblocks around the Royal Palace have not been doing vendors any favours either, said Thou Srey, 42, who runs a shop near Kandal market close to the palace and crematorium.
“During the cremation, some streets were blocked near our market so it was very difficult to sell anything,” he said. Days after the cremation finished, however, business has been slow to pick up.
Near O’Russey market, sales for Chinese New Year’s gifts normally pick up a month before the festival, and Chan Deth, 35, has had his wares hung up for a month now, hoping to bait passing traffic. But customers have not been biting.
“Customers seem to be busy with the King’s funeral ceremony. I thought that after the cremation they will come to buy,” said Deth. “But I have little time left to sell.”
Time is indeed running out. Some of the goods and gifts sold are perishable foodstuffs. In the hampers, sweets and other tasty treats ethnic Chinese families lay out for visitors during the festive period can last only so long.
Usually, the expensive baskets are snapped up early by businessmen who “buy a lot to give to their clients”, explained Zhi Feng.
This year, however, the response to the bright red hampers – traditionally recognised to be lucky – has been a cool blue.
Vendors are resigned, but are trying to stay hopeful. “Chinese New Year goes on for 15 days; I hope business will pick up,” Zhi Feng said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Danson Cheong and Sen David at [email protected]