Forlorn weekend at HCMC’s underground market

 Central Market, HCMC’s first underground market, was nearly empty this weekend with many areas having a ghostly feel after business closed and moved out.

Situated in the Sept. 23rd Park in District 1, Central Market is the first underground commercial complex built in the city for shopping, dining and entertainment. Fashioned from a 10,000 m2 underground parking lot, it opened in 2017.

After closing down for more than six months over Covid-19, the place reopened early this month after the city eased social distancing regulations.

However, the market is still reeling from pandemic impacts. A Central Market rep said just 100 booths in the market were active, less than half the number before the latest Covid-19 wave.

On Saturday night, the market was almost empty inside. The stalls in the 1,000-m2 food court were mostly closed.

Most of more than 50 businesses in the food court have closed their business since the fourth wave began.

The food court wears an abandoned look with shelves and counters gathering dust.

The trash from many food stands has not been cleared even after the businesses have left.

There are just three stands that are still functioning in the food court.

“It’s the weekend but there were not many customers. We only made VND100,000 ($4.42) in business today, a pittance compared to the past,” said Nghi, employee of an ice cream shop in the market.

There was just a smattering of customers at a grill and hotpot shop, though it was a weekend. The staff at some stalls said other owners want to reopen their shops, but the revenue was not enough to cover even basic overheads.

“Before the pandemic, we used to hang out here a lot. Now when we come back here, it’s a bit sad to see an empty scene like this,” said Ho Thi Ngoc Hieu (green shirt).

Half the booths in the shopping area remain closed.

A piece of paper offers to transfer the booth or rent it out for zero dong.

A market rep said that the rents have been reduced by 30-50 percent since the fourth wave began in late April; and that the market management has also provided support for the owners to keep their shops going.

Clothing and shoes stores have been offering big discounts to attract more customers.

Although the market closes at 10 p.m., Loan decided to close her shop at 8.

"Despite a lot of promotions and the market management reducing the rent, not many customers have come. I’m trying to hold on. First I’ll have to sell out all of my inventory. Then we’ll see,” Loan said.

The market rep said that the number of visitors to the shopping and food area has decreased by 70 percent. For the six months that the market had to be closed, the maintenance cost was about VND600 million ($26,500) a month.

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