For traders at the Dordoi Bazaar, a sprawling hub of wholesalers and retailers near Bishkek, the global financial crisis is taking a severe toll.
The Dordoi Bazaar is one of the largest markets in Central Asia. It depends on business from Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as well as from the hordes of Kyrgyz shoppers who descend upon the thousands of metal containers packed full of imported goods from Europe, Turkey and China.
Over the space of 18-years, Dordoi grew into a hypermarket spread across 100 hectares, and it created more 30,000 jobs. But over the past few months, some traders have started to question whether the market can survive. They are despairing because of a drastic fall in customers and inflexibility from landlords.
"We felt the crisis when the number of wholesale buyers from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan dropped drastically. There are fewer buyers than before, and the situation is not getting any better," said Galina, a 36-year-old entrepreneur.
One strategy to maintain customers is to cut prices, but this avenue for survival is largely closed off to Galina. "I sell women's clothes from Turkey and now I have to raise the price for my goods in order to be able to afford the rent of the container," she said.
Rents vary from $500 to $1,000 per month depending on where the container is situated in the market. "I used to pay less, but when the crisis hit the rent of the container became $700 a month, then there was an extra $16 for security, $81 for a license, and land tax every month," Galina said. "Sometimes I make only $232 of profit for myself and my little daughter. I wish the situation would get better, otherwise it's getting to the point where it is impossible to do business here."
Some traders used to pay their rent months in advance, but most can't do that now, said Jumabek, a 50-year-old seller of men's clothes. "Before the crisis, people would pay their rent for six months ahead, but when there is no profit, no sales, and no money, most can't pay a month's rent, never mind paying for another six months," he said. "Now, mostly rent is paid on monthly basis."
Sergei, 40, who sells electronic equipment and household appliances, owns his container and so doesn't have to cope with rental fees. But the additional costs, such as security and taxes, have forced many businesses at Dordoi to close, and these incidental expenses pose a burden for Sergei.
"When the crisis hit this spring all my money, which I spent on buying and ordering goods, was tied up. The crisis that hit us from roughly January to May was a hard one," Sergei said. "Half of the market was empty. Many people left their business in that period due to zero profit."
"Even if we don't sell anything, we still have to pay land tax, security and license fees. That is about $200 a month we have to give to the administration, even if our goods aren't selling," he added.
Sergei sees the ultimate fate of his business - and the Dordoi Bazaar in general - as one that will be determined by developments elsewhere. Recent developments offer a glimmer of hope, he suggested. "I've noticed that we have relatively more wholesale buyers from Russia now. I relate that to the closure of Cherkizovsky market in Moscow," he said. "Also, earlier this year when Uzbekistan closed the borders with Kyrgyzstan, we didn't have any Uzbek buyers. It is getting better now, we have more people buying and I think we are recovering."
Alina Dalbaeva is a freelance writer based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.