No More a Flea Market!

It might have started as an alternative place to shop for lower middle class families of Kashmir but Srinagar’s Sunday Market has, over the years, evolved as a parallel shopping space. Saima Bhat spends a Sunday with vendors and shoppers to understand how the market works.

Sunday-Market-Srinagar-KashmirEvery Sunday from Radio Kashmir, Srinagar to the edge of historic Hari Singh High Street, about a 3 kilometer stretch, is lined with more than 1300 kiosks selling almost everything under the sun. This is Srinagar’s Sunday Market.

Till a few years back Sunday market was Kashmir’s only flea market where one could get good bargains. But it is no more a place of good bargains and cheap replicas only.

Nobody, including most of the vendors at the market, has been able to tell when exactly this market came into existence. Some people who own stalls in the market say that it is more than a decade old.

The Sunday Market shot to fame in the middle class and lower middle class sections of the society in Srinagar and peripheries for the relatively cheaper items on offer across the 3 kilometer stretch of kiosks laden with goods.

To begin with the stalls at the market dealt in items which were either pre-used or rejected for some minor manufacturing defects. The items were imported from some foreign countries as well as from parts of India particularly the Punjab region.

“I have worked at the market for some time. I purchased rejected clothing items from Ludhiana in Punjab and Delhi,” said Muzaffar Ahmad.

As the word spread people from other parts of the valley started to throng the market on Sundays and pick pieces of clothing at throw away prices.

People all the way from Baramulla and Islamabad visited the market to shop.

However things have started to change at the market over the past couple of years. The market is no longer the poor man’s place where he wants to shop.

While some people feel that the basic essence of the market is no more there, some say that the wide range of products on offer has given the consumers another option to explore, other than the regular shops in Srinagar.

This reporter took a tour of the market a recent Sunday and tried to explore the changing trends at this shopping extravaganza.

“This is the best deal you can get madam. The same blanket will cost you not less than 1800 Rupees at any shop in Srinagar,” said a vendor to a potential customer, trying to convince her.

The price he was offering the lady was 1600 Rupees-the difference obviously not substantial.

Curious, the reporter initiated a conversation with the vendor, “I own a shop at the Hari Singh High Street Market,” said the vendor.

He said that a thin footfall at his shop, where he sells blankets and other furnishing items, forced him to rent a stall at the Sunday market and the result has been overwhelming.

“The old stock that was getting eaten up by dust and moth at my shop is almost sold out,” the vendor said.

Another vendor nearby joined the conversation and added that he was working at the Kashmir University on contractual basis and owns a shop nearby.

“My sons look after the shop. I work at the University during weekdays and sell the stuff from shop here on Sundays,” the vendor said.

These vendors however are not lone examples of shopkeepers renting a bed in the market.

Many people, owning swanky shops, around the city have done the same and sell the outdated items from their shops at the Sunday market.

“Not only are we saved from the loss, that we might incur by the left over items at the shop, but we also make decent profit on these otherwise outdated items,” said Nazir Ahmad, who also owns a shop nearby.

Some shopkeepers however rent spaces at the market to simply increase their monthly sales.

“I get this tweed cloth at Rs 190 per meter. On Sundays I sell it at Rs 240 and if purchased from shop we sell it at Rs 270.” Says Mukhtar Ahmad, “This is a minor difference as far as costs are concerned but the sales are good here.”

Sunday-Market-Poloview-Srinagar-KashmirMukhtar maintains that the length of tweed he manages to sell on a Sunday is more or less equal to what he sells at his shop for the rest of the week.

This precisely is the reason that the Sunday Market, once a low cost flea shopping area, is turning out to be a shopping hot-spot for people from Srinagar and otherwise.

Another reason for the market getting costlier is the inflation.

As a customer argues that some years back a pair of socks cost him somewhere around 20 Rupees at the market but now the same pair costs more than 50 Rupees.

“Obviously the shopkeepers renting the space here has inflated costs here, that cannot be denied; however there is an overall inflation in the market which cannot be overlooked as well,” said Abdul Majeed, a vendor, who has his own space at the market and is not a shop owner unlike others.

Majeed still sells the old cheaper stuff, “People come here with the hope of getting cheap things and I believe somebody has to offer that as well.”

The consignments of pre-used and rejected clothing items these days get scanned and categorized by the people who import them to Kashmir.

“The ones in better condition are repacked and sold at the high profile shops around the city,” said Majeed, “The rest comes here.”

However people like Majeed are very few in number. The people who originally owned spaces at the market are now leasing out their spaces to shopkeepers for good monetary benefits.

They don’t sell the stalls however for a single stall costs around Rs 50,000 to 60,000 and hardly anyone is interested to sell these spaces due to a huge profit that a vendor makes selling his merchandise.

The pros and the cons apart, that affect the customer’s pocket, the Sunday Market is emerging as one the biggest markets in Kashmir.

What makes the market versatile is the availability of almost everything.

“The best thing about here is that we don’t have to enter a shop and feel awkward walking out without buying anything,” said Irfan Ahmad, a customer at the market.

Despite the rising prices at the market, people in thousands throng it on Sundays, so much so that the authorities have to divert traffic to other routes to keep the Polo View-Hari Singh High Street clear for the shoppers.

If Adil Jan, President of Kashmir Sunday Market Members Association is to be believed, the monthly turnover of the Sunday market runs in Crores as of now.

“The turnover of the market is estimated at more than 20 Crore Rupees a month and its growing,” said Jan.

While the market is growing at a rapid pace there are some issues they have to brave out there.

The stall owners allege that there is constant harassment at the hands of police.

“We have to make sure that there palms are duly greased or they will create problems for us,” said a vendor on condition of anonymity.

Moreover some goons from the nearby locality, according to the vendors, come drunk and harass them with the sole aim of extracting money.

Issues or no issues, the market sure is growing and growing fast.

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