Visitors at this year's rendition of the new year bazaar at the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre are put off by high prices, however, thousands are still flocking in to check out what is on display.

Wearing a grey sweater, chatting with his spouse and playing with his two daughters, Belay Asrat seemed unbothered by the noise and clamour coming from the crowd. On a Saturday morning, he and his family were among many who converged on a bazaar opened for the new year at the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre.

Belay held a bunch of shopping bags in his left hand; but, he did appear less contented with his shopping. A 39-year-old construction professional, Belay had used much of his budget to buy households items, clothes and accessories. He spent upwards of 8,000 Br, almost half of his monthly income.

"Everything is expensive," said Belay, matter-of-factly. "This is expected. It's happening all over the country."

Belay's is a view informed by surging prices across commodities, eroding household incomes and leaving worried families to tighten belts. The official data for the yearly moving average has reached 30.4pc last month, the highest since 2013. It is a grim reality that manifested at the exhibition centre last week, right from the gates.

Visitors have had to contend with an entrance fee of 50 Br, up from 30 Br two years ago.

Eyoha Addis Entertainment, a veteran event organiser incorporated by Ayu Alemu six years ago with 50,000 Br in capital, was awarded the contract to host the event after offering a 46.7 million Br bid to the Exhibition Centre & Market Development Enterprise. Serving as a venue for holiday events for over two decades, the centre is hosting over 500 vendors, 20 of whom are from overseas.

There are a plethora of traders hoping to sell merchandise from kitchenware and clothes to furniture and jewellery. Prices for clothing, at least, seemed reasonable at first glance, as one of the booths closest to the main entrance offered a pair of pants for 300 Br. However, there is a considerable rise in prices for household items, showing an upsurge of as much as 50pc compared to what was seen two years ago when the expo was last held at this venue.

Following a year when COVID-19 forced organisers to cancel events, Century General Trading is hosting a bazaar at Ghion Hotel dubbed 'Addis Expo,' while Eyoha Addis Entertainment has organised the New Year Expo at the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre.

This year's rendition of the New Year event is the first since 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic pressured organisers to cancel a series of events last year.

Each vendor paid a minimum of 30,000 Br to rent booths and for the chance to promote their products to the thousands expected to attend.The prices for the larger booths, covering 12sqm, can go as high as 150,000 Br. The prices also differ depending on the location of the booths.

Tizita Temesgen is participating in a bazaar for her fourth time. She rented out a booth for 80,000 Br, hoping to profit selling gloves imported from Turkey. Though the Expo started weeks ago on August 19, 2021, she has yet to break even. She sells a pair of gloves for 400 Br.

"There's practically no business," she said. "It's hard to compare it to two years ago."

It was no different for Temesgen Wondimu, 23, who stocked his booth with refrigerators and washing machines. Two years ago, he had rented out a similar booth and wrapped up the three weeks with close to two million Birr in sales. He had paid 130,000 Br for the booth, 20,000 Br less than he paid this time around.

Though he hoped he would see results repeated, this year has been a disappointment.

"Even discounts don't help," said Temesgen. "Nobody is buying; they just ask for prices and leave."

Participants who have travelled from overseas seem to be experiencing their fair share of disappointment.

Bilal Ashrat is an Indian businessman who rented a 12sqm booth at the bazaar, offering hair-straighteners and pyjamas. He remembered selling 10 pieces a day three years ago, a far cry from the two pieces he managed to sell a day last week.

"It is disappointing," he told Fortune.

This year's bazaar has something of interest to visitors. Ethio telecom promotes its Telebirr mobile money platform, offering visitors to use it to pay the entrance fee. Over 200 of the vendors accept payments through the platform. Tena Edible Oil offered a discounted price to buyers willing to pay through Telebirr.

Eyoha's bazaar at the Exhibition Centre was not the only shopping event in town, alluring consumers enticed by the holiday fever.

Down the road from the Exhbition Centre, Century General Trading hosts the Addis Expo inside Ghion Hotel. The response from vendors and visitors is mixed.

Century Trading spent over nine million Birr to organise the event, including expenses on entertainment, after securing a deal with the Hotel's management. Over 65 vendors are participating, and visitors pay a 30 Br entrance fee at the gate.

Seife Molla, 47, was one of the visitors on Saturday last week. He made the trip to Ghion Hotel with a budget of 10,000 Br, which he wanted to spend buying clothes for his children.

"I couldn't find any," he says. "I bought a pair of pants for myself instead."

Although he finds prices reasonable at the Ghion, Seifu was dissatisfied by the limited option available.

"I had expected more," he told Fortune.

Neither are businesses happy with the turnout of visitors, despite hopes the numbers increase with the holiday nears.

"It's not as we had expected," said Hailemariam Cherenet, a businessman who rented a nine-square-metre shed for 40,000 Br.

The organisers are also aware of the problems, including the limited options available on sale. This is due to challenges importers are facing with shipping, says Edelawit Zewge, project manager at Century. She expects the bazaar, the 27th such event for the veteran organiser, to pick up in the days leading up to the holiday.

Both expos are set to run until New Year's Eve on September 10, 2021.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 04,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1114]

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