Yohana Belinda, Jakarta – Small business owners and customers alike are enthusiastic about the prospect of a restriction-free Lunar New Year.
Customers hunting for Chinese New Year decorations, such as zodiac animal toys, paper cutouts, lanterns and angpau (red envelopes to be filled with money) can be found in large numbers at the Glodok Chinatown Market as preparations continue to welcome the Year of the Water Rabbit, which arrives on Jan. 22.
Vendors tend to shoppers seeking angpau with illustrations of cute rabbits and other decorations, such as lanterns, coins and artificial flowers, highlighting the highly anticipated festive season.
With the COVID-19 pandemic on the wane, the merchants have been experiencing a boost in Chinese New Year sales this year.
Marzudin, a 28-year-old stall owner, said that in the previous two years, his income from selling Chinese New Year decorations had been much lower than usual, as many families were unable to gather because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The pandemic has left major scars on societies and economies. In 2021, Bank Indonesia (BI) reported that approximately 87.5 percent of Indonesian micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) had been affected by the pandemic, with 93.2 percent seeing their sales negatively affected. Many are still recovering.
"We're seeing strong demand for paper cutouts with the relevant Chinese zodiac [creature] and lanterns," Mazurdin noted, but he added that demand still wasn't as high as before the pandemic.
Nonetheless, he said he was deeply grateful for the return of business this year. His sales had tripled from the previous two years.
On Dec. 30, 2022, the government officially lifted pandemic public activity restrictions (PPKM), noting that using masks and the PeduliLindungi tracing app was no longer mandatory but advisable when using public transit or in crowds.
Marzudin has run his seasonal stand for the past 12 Lunar New Years. Usually, he and other vendors open shop a month before the holiday, and Mazurdin said he could receive tens of millions of rupiah in profit over the course of one New Year.
Since December 2022, Marzudin, along with other vendors in Glodok, has been selling decorations and ornaments. He said Glodok Chinatown Market was the best place to sell his goods because it was close to Dharma Bhakti Temple. And the low price he offered helped with demand, too, he added.
"Because we sell across the street, it's going to draw more customers," Marzudin said. "That's what I appreciate about setting up a stand here."
Marzudin said the angpau were selling very well as older family members prepared to give money to younger, unmarried ones. Lanterns, too, were popular as symbols of letting go of the past year and welcoming the new one with good fortune.
Dedi, a 40-year-old stall owner, expressed similar enthusiasm, saying he was pleased to welcome more customers, as Chinese New Year had once been one of his most profitable times of the year.
"I just want to feed my family," he said while wrapping up an item for a customer, adding that one year of good Chinese New Year sales could help him buy a car and make much-needed repairs on his home.
The customers, too, were filled with joy at the prospect of a restriction-free holiday season. At the market with her daughter, Devi Merliani purchased angpau for her nieces and nephews.
Before the pandemic, Devi was a regular seasonal customer at Glodok Chinatown Market because of its extensive collection of items. The 36-year-old said she had spent the past two years celebrating Chinese New Year by Zoom, but online sessions just weren't the same. This year, she would be able to celebrate the holiday in person with her family for the first time in three years.
"I hadn't been buying Chinese New Year merchandise because my family couldn't get together due to the pandemic. That's why I'm excited for this year's celebration," she said on Dec. 13. "The children are excited to receive their money from their relatives [in person]."
Online Chinese New Year vendors have experienced a similar bump in business.
Thirty-five-year-old Michelle Angeline is the owner of a small business called The Paperlogy that operates out of Pantai Indah Kapuk, North Jakarta. She has been selling customized angpau for the last five years and has noticed a rebound in sales this year.
"It's getting better, but I am not yet able to achieve what I got before the pandemic," Michelle said.
During the pandemic, Michelle's angpau orders dropped significantly. In response to the decline, she shifted to selling jamu (traditional herbal medicine) to survive.
Michelle was excited about the return of angpau orders from customers in Jakarta, Surabaya, other parts of Indonesia and even Singapore.
"I just had to go with the flow," she said of her pandemic business transition.
Diana Prayogo and her two friends Angelina Wijasa and Audrey Sevyana, meanwhile, enjoyed business blessings during the pandemic. Although the pandemic had affected small business owners, Diana said she had optimized her e-commerce websites for the available market.
Technological adaptation, she said, was key to the business' survival during the pandemic, as she could reach customers who were not based in Surabaya, where she lived.
The change in Chinese New Year celebrations during the period required business owners to be creative in assembling attractive gift baskets. Diana and her colleagues made gift baskets filled with empty angpau that could be customized into home decor such as calendars and fragrance diffusers.
The mother of one added that angpau sales were up 30 percent this year.
"During the pandemic, individuals could not buy Chinese hampers or souvenirs for their family at the mall. They turned to look for us as we were available online," she said.
Moreover, the founder of The Kartoo Project added that she was able to succeed during the pandemic because she understood customers' needs. She and her colleagues tried to offer designs that were distinct from the angpau available on most shelves. She noticed that many younger couples were selecting envelopes in colors other than red, and she used gold foil to elevate her designs.
Diana also benefited from an expansion of her network of clients during the pandemic. "I think constantly evolving and adapting are the keys," she said.