KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 10 — Plumes of sweet incense smoke flirted among the stalls lining the streets of the Little India districts in Brickfields and Klang, where sellers hoped to lure deep-pocketed shoppers.
However, the usual throngs of people were reduced to a mere trickle in the days leading up to Deepavali, unlike previous years, and merchants braced themselves for a sharp decline in business.
“Business this year is very bad. People are choosing to buy from online platforms or on trips to India,” Bathemany, a worker at a shop selling traditional Indian clothes, told Malay Mail.
Shop worker Bathemany speaks with Malay Mail regarding their sales during Deepavali in Klang November 9, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
The 35-year-old said she had been working at the store in Klang for over five years now, explaining how the business had been hit the worst this year with a reduction in business of about 80 per cent.
“It was not so bad even after the lockdowns were lifted,” she said.
Five-foot ways in both Little India districts were covered with small stalls or extensions of shop lots as businesses seized the opportunity to capitalise on the festive celebration, but willing buyers were not as apparent.
Arivananthan Gopalan has managed a small stall outside of the Mydin Hypermarket in Little India, Klang, for more than 25 years where he sells a selection of snacks, including the popular Deepavali snack murukku.
Stall owner Arivananthan speaks with Malay Mail regarding his sales during Deepavali in Klang November 9, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
He has a banner across the front of his stall with a picture of himself and his wife, whom he lost two years ago — a loss which still hurts, he said.
“Business is down by 80 per cent this year,” he told Malay Mail.
Despite supplies costing more, he has not raised his prices this year.
For him, another issue is the increased rainfall as he is forced to close when the weather is wet. In addition to that, heavier rains lead to less foot traffic, which is something his sales rely on.
“But many people still support me,” he said with a broad smile.
At another small roadside stall beside the Mydin Hypermarket that sells jewellery, Kisnawe said their business dropped by about 20 to 30 per cent as compared to last year during the same festive period.
Stall worker Kisnawe, 23, speaks with Malay Mail regarding their sales during Deepavali in Klang November 9, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
The 23-year-old, who helps her mother at her business while running her own henna painting stall, said the number of customers had fallen even though there was no price increase.
“It’s worse this year,” she lamented.
However, she is hoping for more customers making last-minute purchases to come to her mother’s stall over the remaining days.
“We’ve had more people this week than last week but it’s still not so busy. I hope they come on Saturday. We will be open until the night before Deepavali,” she said.
For shoppers like Diana, a 41-year-old insurance agent, the Deepavali shopping budget has had to expand by 30 to 40 per cent to accommodate rising prices.
“It is quite expensive, but celebrating Deepavali only comes around once a year,” she said.
Shopper Diana speaks with Malay Mail while looking for Deepavali items in Klang November 9, 2023. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Her total budget for this year, including clothes for her family of five, decorations and murukku, has come up to roughly RM1,000.
The spiced savoury snack was a shocking expense for her this year, she said, describing how large tins are being sold at more than RM80 per tin.
“I’m only buying two tins this year,” she said.
Ganesh, 23, and Shanti, 33, who both work as officers somewhere within the Suria KLCC shopping mall, were spotted buying Deepavali themed decorations at the Asokan Store in Brickfields.
Ganesh said the cost of buying decorations has almost doubled this year compared to last year.
People shop for Deepavali decorations in a store in preparation for the upcoming Deepavali festival in Brickfields November 8, 2023. — Picture by Raymond Manuel
“I’m buying this for our office decorations since this is the festive season. Last year, we could get fake marigold flowers and colourful lights for our office for about RM100. But now it is almost RM200!
“It’s getting expensive, and we are getting the same thing as last time,” said Ganesh.
Shanti said she won’t be buying any new decorations for her house as she plans to reuse and repurpose past years’ decorations.
“I’ll use what I have at home. I won’t buy anything new. Saving the money for something else,” she said.
Asokan Store General Manager Mithra acknowledges price hikes compared to the previous year during an interview with Malay Mail Brickfields October 8, 2023. — Picture by Raymond Manuel
The Indian grocery store manager, Mithra, 35, conceded that prices at the shop are higher than last year.
However, she said the company is working with household brands such as QBB Malaysia, a company that sells ghee, to make prices more affordable to the public.
“The prices are still okay, but higher than last year. We are collaborating with companies such as QBB Malaysia to make it affordable. We even give away gifts such as containers and glass jars when they purchase the ghee,” she said.
Asokan Store is selling QBB’s ghee at prices ranging from RM11.90 to RM55.90 according to weight.
Hindus celebrate Deepavali during the Hindu calendar month of Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November), which marks the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon king Narakasura.
Deepavali falls on November 12 this year.