Survival of the oldest and fittest


The Jakarta Post | Feature | Fri, March 01 2013, 12:27 PM

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The Jakarta Post visited a number of traditional markets to see how they are struggling for survival in the face of fierce competition, particularly from big, modern supermarkets. This report and related stories on the next page 
were jointly prepared by
 Utami Diah Kusumawati, Sebastian Partogi, Nadia Sarasati, Muhammad Edy Sofyan, Khoirul Amin, Haeril Halim, Aswiditiyo Nedwika and Arfan Wiraguna.

Dirty, smelly, wet, muddy, stuffy and overcrowded.

These words aptly describe most traditional markets in Jakarta. They also happened to be among comments made by Joko “Jokowi” Widodo during observation tours of the capital on the campaign trail before the gubernatorial election in 2012.

Walk into Pasar Minggu or Pasar Kebayoran Lama in South Jakarta, or stroll through Pasar Kramat Jati in East Jakarta or Pasar Muara Angke in North Jakarta. Or visit Pasar Senen in Central Jakarta, which until the 1980s was still considered the go-to market. 

The scenes and atmosphere everywhere are the same, with the Muara Angke and Kramat Jati markets in particular almost inaccessible because of the throngs of vendors occupying narrow passageways and entrances.

These long-standing marketplaces, known as pasar, are now probably the least shopper-friendly of all of Jakarta’s commercial trade facilities.

They are a sharp contrast to the easily accessible, convenient, spacious, clean and organized minimarkets, supermarkets and hypermarkets with ample parking, such as Alfamart, Indomaret, Ceriamart, 7-Eleven, Carrefour, Giant, Hypermart and Lotte. 

The traditional markets are under threat and in retreat as these more attractive modern facilities are opening and operating in close proximity. For example, the Carrefour outlet in Kramat Jati is just 200 meters from the local market and a Ceriamart operates opposite Pasar Grogol with an Alfamart and 7-Eleven outlet only 100 meters away. All are competing for our shopping money.

The central government and the city administration have come up with regulations and bylaws designed to protect the existence of small traders and traditional markets, but enforcement has been poor. 

Existing zoning regulations for modern markets have been virtually ignored, and although Governor Jokowi wants to rectify this, he is unlikely to make as easy headway in restricting the operations of supermarkets as he did in his previous job as mayor of the Central Java town of Surakarta (Solo). There are powerful obstacles in his way. 

However, it seems the traditional markets are not necessarily doomed. Some of these markets, such as Pasar Mayestik in South Jakarta, are fighting back resiliently. 

In June 2012, Pasar Mayestik finished a major renovation, while Pasar Grogol in West Jakarta has gone down in the record books four times running for achieving the Adipura award as the cleanest market in the city. 

PD Pasar Jaya, the Jakarta administration agency that manages 153 traditional markets across the capital, sees plenty of leeway beyond regulations to enhance the reputation and attractiveness of the markets.

“What is most important is for us to prepare ourselves to be able to compete with the modern shopping facilities,” Agus Lamun, a spokesman for PD Pasar Jaya, told The Jakarta Post in his office in Pasar Pramuka, East Jakarta.

He perceives peeling away the “traditional” label attached to these markets as vital because that term is often associated with “old” and “outdated”.

“Our buildings can be as good as theirs. Whether modern or traditional, they are the same,” Agus said. 

He goes further by pointing out that making purchases in the markets rather than the supermarkets has perks of its own. “What distinguishes us is the ability for shoppers to haggle over prices.”

Rina, a housewife who frequents Pasar Mayestik, had a similar sentiment. She cited one of the pluses as the ability to bargain, adding that even better was the possibility of building good relationships and trust with the traders. 

“I no longer bargain with some of them because I trust they will give me good prices,” she said. 

She also believes that the produce at her favorite market is fresher and healthier, not frozen as she has often found in supermarkets.

“Pasar Mayestik is as good as any mall,” she says.

Budi, a housewife in Prumpung, East Jakarta, who was shopping for packaged items at the Carrefour in Kramat Jati, had a similar sentiment about produce. 

She explained, “I do my daily shopping at Pasar Kramat Jati because the produce, particularly vegetables, is fresher. I come here for milk and such because I trust the expiration dates on the packaging. It’s safer,” she said. 

Regina, a housewife who shops at Pasar Senen, is more attracted to the longer-established markets because “It’s cheaper to buy in the traditional markets. The big supermarkets are only for the rich.” 

However, Carrefour, Lotte, Giant and Hypermart seem intent on debunking this assumption. They advertise through leaflets or one-page advertisements in local newspapers touting their prices as competitive if not cheaper. And they can sell some of their items at lower prices because they buy in mass amounts on long-term contracts. 

Another perk is that even though shoppers cannot negotiate prices, they can pay their bills with credit or debit cards at the one-stop checkout counter instead of having to open their wallets at each trader’s stall as when shopping at traditional markets. 

Top that off with the fact that the modern chains can maintain their prices at a stable level no matter what, while prices at the traditional markets can be volatile depending on supply and demand. During a recent beef shortage, housewives said it was cheaper to buy meat at the big supermarkets. And there was no bargaining the price down. 

Price checks on some essential items in the last week of January found traditional markets more competitive. For example, a whole fresh chicken at Pasar Minggu was selling for Rp 28,000 (US$2.90) compared to Rp 37,000 at the Lotte in Ratu Plaza. 

Overall, however, the limitations of the older markets belie any 
expectation that they could ever 
totally defeat the more modern competition. 

Market trader Sugiarti, 55, says she has not seen her vegetable business in Pasar Minggu growing these last five years, adding that she has been taking home on average just Rp 50,000 to Rp 70,000 a day. The recent flooding in Jakarta has made it worse, because, with supplies declining, she has been forced to increase prices even though fewer and fewer people have been coming to buy. 

This mother of two said she is resigned to her fate. “Just as long as I can feed my family,” she said. 

Mono, a vegetable seller at Pasar Grogol, says he too has seen his business stagnating. He makes a profit of between Rp 50,000 and Rp 100,000 a day on a turnover of Rp 2.1 million. To save on expenses, he spends the night in his kiosk, while his wife and two children live in Bogor. 

“I believe God will bless my effort and that I will never suffer,” Mono, 32, said.

Yet there is still the hope that something can be done to keep the traditional markets alive and even revitalized. 

The Indonesian Association of Market Retailers (APPSI), founded in 2004 as an advocacy group to help improve the lot of market vendors, says the number of traders in Jakarta has declined from 120,000 some 10 years ago to around 80,000 today. It is the organization’s goal to curb this trend.

According to APPSI secretary-general Ngadiran, countering this exodus of traders has been a struggle because PD Pasar Jaya has not held up their part of the bargain, although traders have paid their dues for sanitation, security and other services.

“The markets are still dirty and not safe,” Ngadiran said in a telephone interview. “They are just so unprofessional.”

Scholar Daniel Suryadarma, in a 2009 paper written for the SMERU Research Institute, cited another challenge: “Traditional markets are plagued with internal problems and face increasingly severe competition from street vendors.”

If management is considered 
the problem, management can also be part of the solution, with a little innovation. 

At Pasar Grogol, PD Pasar Jaya, which manages the market, has built sports and leisure facilities, such as a table tennis area and a large futsal arena inside the building to keep husbands and children entertained while women do their shopping.

At Pasar Mayestik, PT Metroland Permai, the private developer 
that helped renovate the market, introduced a food court offering diversified menus for shoppers needing a break.

Metroland says it originally wanted to convert Mayestik into a shopping plaza, but the concept was rejected by the traders. Eventually the sides came to a compromise.

“We have a modern shopping building where transactions are carried out in traditional ways, including bargaining,” said Irfan, spokesman for Metroland’s operation in Mayestik.

PD Pasar Jaya says it has renovated 11 markets and rebuilt 40 others in the last five years and will be working on 57 other markets between now and 2016. Spokesman Agus says PD Pasar Jaya’s units are actively running programs to promote the markets and upgrade the skills of some 57,165 traders registered with the agency.

Many traders also get help from banks. At Pasar Mayestik, the Koppas cooperatives for traders mediate on behalf of members with banks such as Bank BNI, Bank DKI and Bank Danamon. Sarodji, a trader who sits on the cooperatives advisory board, said sometimes the market cooperatives lend money to traders to pay for their kiosks. 

Ultimately, however, the survival of traditional markets and the 
tens of thousands of traders 
depends more on their ability to keep their customers coming back in a steady flow.

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