Unstable Costs Spoil Petty Business amid COVID-19

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Curtain sellers no longer get customers because their customers now have more pressing priorities such as food and medicines as a result of the economic downturn exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Curtain sellers explain the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses

By Tina S. Mehnpaine

Even though the pandemic is still present since its emergence in March this year in Liberia, its impacts on businesses and the general livelihood of people in the country are something that businesswomen in the ever-busy commercial district of Red-Light cannot forget.

Amid all, businesses have been struggling to survive even from the onset of the George Weah Administration, where many businesses in 2018 and 2019 were forced to shut down due to what entrepreneurs call “difficult business environment.” Women selling used household fabrics near the Victory Chapel Ministries in Red Light are not exempt from this difficult business environment.

They mainly trade in pillowcases, bed sheets, window curtains, table cloths, rods, and door curtains. This is a business that the women have been in for years and know what it brings to them. However, given the prevailing economic situation, it seems as though their business expectations and hope of profit-making are no longer stable.

Mamie Wesseh, 39, sells Bedsheets, curtains and pillowcases.  She says since the outbreak of the pandemic in mid-March this year, she has experienced a ‘dry market’, meaning that there are no buyers on a daily basis. According to her, before the pandemic her business was progressing because customers were regularly purchasing from her.

Mrs. Wesseh said because of the virus, items such as bedsheets, curtains, and pillowcases are no longer considered essential to customers who now have to prioritize food and medication during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Before then, we used to buy one bedsheet for US$5 (cost price) and sell it for L$1,500. A pair of pillows we buy for US$15 (Cost price), and sell one set for L$1,800, but since the outbreak prices have increased. We are now buying one bedsheet for US$10, selling it for US$15 and customers are complaining and refusing to buy,” she said.

The world Bank 2020 report on ease of doing business states that there is a huge decline in businesses as compared to 2019, ranking Liberia at 175, from 174 in the previous year’s report.

Elizabeth Thompson, 41, who also sells bedsheets, is calling on the government to see the need to reduce taxes on imported goods as a means of keeping such prices low for petty traders like herself.

She buys her goods from Guinea at much cheaper prices, she says, but incurs a lot of expenses such as customs and duties while bringing them into Liberia. As a result, she is compelled to increase the price for customers to be able to reap her capital and profit.

“We spend plenty money for transportation and customs duties at the border points, and when we get to Monrovia, we see the exchange rate of the US dollar rising on a daily basis,” she said.

Madame Thompson noted that the rising rate of the US dollar against the Liberian dollar will always harm the citizens because many of them are not earning in US dollars, a currency in which they are yet compelled to purchase.

“Everything sold in the market is calculated in US dollars. Once the rate is up, prices will definitely change,” she noted.

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