Small Vendors See Little Benefit From Festival

The commercial boom associated with the Water Festival may be paying off for large companies, but small vendors said Wednesday that they were priced out of key locations in the capital this year and were scrambling to cover their costs.

Representatives of large firms that set up shop next to Hun Sen Park and the funfair said they had paid around $400 or $500 to rent prime real estate, and even more to draw in customers with big-prize lotteries.

But owners of tiny snack shops and stalls said they were pushed to peripheral locations, and some feared they would not be able to cover even the cost of their permits.

In the heart of the action by Hun Sen Park, international cosmetics brands such as Ponds and Revlon wooed customers with billboard-sized booths.

At one stall nearby, a makeshift beer garden complete with kar­aoke machine pitched Eagles cigarettes.

Chan Akrunn of Vinton Group, which sells the cigarettes, said his firm paid $500 for a three-day permit.

The booth was drawing more consumers than in previous years, he said, thanks to lottery prizes like mobile phones.

“The majority of the clients know about my products. Other clients from the provinces learn about the lucky draw and are in­terested in trying as well,” he said.

And outside the Lao Hang Heng Wine Co, Ltd, booth, a mob of customers were ripping open lucky draw tickets, hoping to win one of the shiny motorbikes on display.

One retailer for a local shop who declined to be named said she spent $37 on two cases of mus­cle wine and got 17 lucky draw tickets as well.

Her disappointing winnings from the draw: A handful of pens and more wine.

The muscle wine company’s Executive Manager Hok Sovanna said premium prices on the wine during the Water Festival and ex­pensive prizes were drawing the hordes.

But less than 100 me­ters away, down Sisowath Quay, a handful of food vendors waited for clients who were simply not coming.

Chea Keolyda, 20, said she had paid Bassac commune officials $25 for her three-day permit, but it was not paying off.

“Last year we sold much, but this year we lack customers,” she said.

“I contacted the commune officials to get the permit to sell here. Actually, I tried to get the permit to sell [near the larger corporate booths] but they do not allow the small business, only the companies selling products. Maybe this year I will lose money.”

Across the Tonle Sap on the Chroy Changvar peninsula, vendors were even more frustrated.

This year marks Sam Bory’s sixth trip from Svay Rieng prov­ince to sell snacks at the festival.

She said she used to earn $50 to $75 at the festival each year. But so far, this year, she has lost $3.75.

“[I asked commune officials] to hire a stall at [Independence Mon­u­ment Park] or other places surrounding the Royal Palace where crowds of visitors gather, but the stall is very expensive and the owners claim that they need to keep the stall to hire for big companies,” she said.

“We are a small business so we could not afford to pay for them.”

Municipal Vice Governor Pa So­­cheatavong declined to comment about the distribution of permits for businesses and vendors.

But Pich Saroeurn, Chroy Chang­var commune chief, said the commune had constructed 100 stalls for vendors to rent this year.

“The stall is cheap because those vendors are poor and they could not pay for renting good stalls in Phnom Penh town, where visitors gather,” Pich Sar­oeurn said, adding the small fees were needed to fund extra security.

He said the stalls cost between $2.50 and $5 for the three days-a fee some vendors said was great­er than their meager revenues.

Mith Sambo, 37, who traveled from Ponhea Leu district, Kandal province, said she was desperate to at least break even, after paying $5 for her stall and $8 for transportation.

“Our villagers could not make a good crop from the rice paddies so villagers expected to earn money with the Water Festival to support the family,” she said.

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