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Without foreign tourists, Ben Thanh Market vendors struggle to survive

By Thi Ha   June 16, 2020 | 08:55 pm PT
Without foreign tourists, Ben Thanh Market vendors struggle to survive
Shop owners wait for customers in Ben Thanh Market, HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Thi Ha.
Many shops in Ben Thanh, Saigon's most famous traditional market, remain shut while others struggle to do business in the post-lockdown era.

Only 50 percent of the over 1,400 stalls are open now. They all closed on April 1 when the government ordered a national semi-lockdown, some have never opened though the restrictions were eased in May and some opened briefly and closed again, VnExpress found.

The market management said many stalls are closed since their owners are busy looking to set up shop elsewhere.

Rents are high at this iconic market, with a stall costing VND10-20 million ($429-858) a month. To buy one outright costs VND700 million ($30,000) to VND1.5 billion ($64,380). In comparison, shops at another busy market, Tan Dinh, on Hai Ba Trung Street are available for just VND1 million.

Phuong Hong, the owner of a small lingerie stall in Ben Thanh, said she has never seen such poor business in her more than 20 years here. "Even on the busiest day, the turnover is only VND150,000 ($6.4) while some days I sit here all day without any customers."

But she still has to pay VND4 million ($171) a month to the market management.

"I am still better than other small businesses because my family owns the stall and so I don't have to pay rent. Since some vendors cannot afford the rent, they have to close shop."

Thu Trang, who sells children's clothes, said sales were not even a 10th of normal.

"On some days the turnover is only a few tens of thousands of dong (VND10,000 = $0.43). The profit is not enough for me to buy a plate of broken rice. But I have to continue since I don't know what other work to switch to."

She used to hire workers but now runs everything herself as she waits for tourists to return.

Many shopkeepers said they wrote to the management asking for a reduction in the management fee but have yet to receive a reply.

Hong said: "If it is not possible to waive the fee, the management can make a 50 percent cut."

But the management told VnExpress that rate is fixed by the government and it could not waive or reduce it.

Ben Thanh is an iconic Saigon landmark where wholesale and retail trading is done. For long it has been a magnet for foreign visitors. Vietnam's borders have been closed to most foreign nationals since March 22 and international flights have yet to resume.

Before the pandemic outbreak the market used to get 15,000 visitors a day on average, but this has dwindled to just a few hundred people now who come mainly to eat.

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