As a prime venue for holiday shenanigans, the gates of Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre near Mesqel Square seemed rather quiet last Tuesday evening.

Leaving the renovated stares behind, the booming sounds coming from giant speakers turn the mood completely. Decorated trees right to the ticket counter flicker lights rejoicing in the festivity. Gullible bank clerks struggle to persuade entrants to create savings accounts, while real estate salespersons have their eyes out on prospective home buyers.

Visitors like Rozina Tekele and her sister try to capture the memory of taking selfies on their smartphones, walking slowly into the hall. Rozina has attended holiday bazaars countless times before; what made this special was sharing the moment with her elder sister.

She came to the city's centre from Bole Arabsa, on the outskirts of the capital, looking for kitchen gadgets and clothes for her two children at a lower price. A 39-year-old housewife did not plan to purchase the first item she saw on her way in with plenty of options to weigh from.

She asked the vendor the price for an onion-cutting machine only to be left astounded by the doubled price of what she had planned. The negotiation between the two ended without an agreement as 3,000 Br was way above her budget. She helplessly stood in the booth full of kitchen utensils and small machines with her black purse.

The vendor Samuel Gebretsadik has participated in the bazaars for the past six holidays. Contrary to what Rosina says, he claims that he did not experience complaints about the pricing. According to Samuel, the onion-cutting machine imported from China is his top seller, close to 300 Br less than the outside market. A similar spike in the coffee machine landed its price at 3,000 Br, double from the same period last year.

Tired shoppers walk out of bazar at millenium hall after a day of holiday purchases for the new year.

The bazaar showcases vendors carrying furniture, cosmetics, and household commodities. Organized by Dream Come True (DCT) Entertainment Plc, it has a 50 Br entrance fee, a much lower rate than previous ones. This is the first-holiday engagement for the entertainment company with three years of experience.

Close to 350 vendors leased from nine to 40sqm booths to exhibit their products and services. The rental fees vary with site and visibility, ranging from 4,500 Br to 4,900 Br for a square metre. Samuel had bagged his booth with 124,000 Br, an upward difference of 34,000 Br from the prior holiday four months ago.

The Exhibition Centre & Market Development Enterprise, a public enterprise under the Addis Abeba City Administration, awarded DCT Entertainment to host the bazaar at the centre for 35 million Br three months ago.

Mekonen Abraham, a 60-year-old visitor, wants to buy a jacket, trousers and furniture for the holiday. He came with a bag, ready to buy at least one or two items from his shopping list only to find out that it is not the case.

"I bought a jacket at a price half lower than this last year," he said in a defeated tone.

Sharing the same sentiment, Kidist Alelign does not believe the prices are offered at discounts compared to the market outside. A mother of two, Kidist spent 6,000 Br to buy clothes for her children and sweatpants for herself. Even though kitchen accessories grab her attention, the prices exceed what she has in her pockets.

Starting in 1991, Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre has been a venue for holiday events and exhibitions. The Enterprise earned 70pc of last year's total revenue from the three main holiday bazaars with close to 140 million Br. About 40 events are lined up for this year with close to 50 small and medium-scale enterprises participating in the Christmas bazaar.

One of the vendors that has secured a free booth is Weynishet, Fikirte & Associates, showcasing artifacts such as wall decorations and frames made of bamboo. The part owner Weynishet is not pleased with the arrangements made and the half-hearted treatment from facilitators.

"It's discouraging," she said.

Shoppers have an alternative five kilometres from the exhibition centre with less crowd.

Millennium Hall hosts a similar event organised by Jorka Events, seasoned with more than a decade of experience. Passing the gate with an electronic ticket, the 19,000sqm venue has swallowed the shoppers.

A middle-aged man is placing Tej, a honey wine that is one of the sought-after cultural drinks, on the table a few metres away from the entry point. Behailu Melaku is a vendor participating for the second time. He describes the holiday market vibe as "dull compared to the good old days." Behailu rented the nine square metres stall for 35,000 Br, down from the previous holiday rent by half. However, he is not satisfied with the return.

Sourcing from apiaries around Entoto on the outskirts of the capital, a kilo of honey is sold for 400 Br while a litre of tej costs 100 Br. His booth received hundreds of visitors in a day during the new year's expo four months ago but a maximum of 20 people a day this time.

"It's probably due to inflation," said Behailu.

The central statistics agency puts the country's inflation rate at 35.1pc, supporting his claim.

Most of the vendors are apprehensive about sitting idle mid-day. The manager of Roha Furniture Meseret Negash attributes the outcome to insufficient promotion. She rented a booth to promote garden-suited furniture and hotel standard chairs and tables. Frustrated by the cold atmosphere to the extent of not selling a single item, Meseret is anxious to leave the place two weeks later with nothing to show for it.

"I was hoping to promote my store," said Meseret.

The Exhibition centre is visited by an estimated 12,000 visitors a day, while Millenium Hall sees a quarter fewer visitors than its counterpart. The DCT management expects the number to rise to 25,000 a day as the deadline approaches.

Mechare Meda, an open-field venue that has been attracting events following the pandemic, is no more hosting holiday bazaars as the area is earmarked for real-estate construction.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 01,2023 [ VOL 23 , NO 1183]

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