- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 September 5 , 2003 

Economics Lesson: School is back, and with it the spending season

Hasmik Mikaelyan's back-to-school bookstore business increased when she expanded to an open market.

The beginning of September means the beginning of school, and that means the beginning of good business for dealers of all things related to school life.

During the last days of August, white shirts (the traditional uniform of schoolchildren) fly off shop racks like nervous butterflies.

In markets throughout the country the back-to-school marathon is a race for shoppers, with rules set by the merchants.

Shirts, skirts, shoes, bookbags . . . The rush is on at all shops and open markets.

Forty five year old Marineh Galstyan has four school-aged children. She leaves Firdus market with over-stuffed parcels and a wallet that has been lightened.

"Every year I was spending about $250 but this year prices have increased. I had to spend $300," she says.

In a country where the "official" salary is about $35 a month, there is back to school gridlock in Yerevan markets with families spending multiple times that so that their children will be appropriately presented and prepared.

Impatient children torment tired parents who wish for a more convenient way of performing the annual ritual.

Shopper Armen Sargsyan blames some unknown somebody for not making his back-to-school-shopping life easier:

"These days they could have widened the paths leading to the places selling school goods by decreasing the number of pavilions selling goods of less interest, or by providing smaller territories for those pavilions," he says.

Firdus open market is considered one of the cheapest market outlets in the capital. However, there are more stationery products than clothes for schoolchildren. One of the traders, 39 year old Aram Arakelyan, says that it is not profitable for him to buy wholesale goods for schoolchildren.

"If we don't sell goods before September 1 then we are going to keep them in the warehouses till next year. And the next year there will be completely different fashion and style of clothes and we won't be able to sell these goods," he says.

In Echmiadzin, bookstore businesswoman Hasmik Mikaelyan has widened the range of her production these days. She has opened an outlet in the market, where trade far exceeds business in her regular store.

"People are used to shopping in open markets," she says. "It looks like they don't want to be politely served. If today the turnover of the bookstore makes $50 then it will be $100 in markets. This activity level remains until September 10."

Hasmik complains that many traders make use of the moment and increase the prices these days.

She also says that this year's school shopping season is more active than the last. She has noticed, for example, that fiction books are selling this year, whereas last year parents tried to keep their kids away from the non-essentials.

One school dress sold in Malatia open market costs 11,600-14,500 drams ($20-25), shirts cost 3,000-8,000 drams ($5-15). Cheap shoes cost 5,000-7,000 drams ($8-12). Schoolbags cost 3,000-10000 drams ($5-17).

From bookbags to shirts and shoes and books and . . . first day of school takes a toll on the family budget.

A child's school preparation isn't complete of course without a selection of pens and paper. At most markets the cheaper ones made in China are good sellers, but demand is also high for the better-quality brands produced in Turkey and Russia.

A stop at the stationery section will add 5,000 drams (about $8.50) to a first-former's family expenses.

Parents spend about $100 getting a child ready for first form.

For many, the spending begins even before the shopping.

Anahit Margaryan has one nine-form schoolchild and one ten-form. She must pay 11,000 drams ($19) fee for using school books.

"Only my husband works in our family. His average salary is 50,000 drams ($86) per month. Lessons have only just started but they are already collecting 1,200 ($2) drams from each child in the school. They say it's for curtains and general reconstruction works," complains Anahit.

Director of the Echmiatsin Nersisyan Seminary Hamlet Nahatakyan says that money collected from parents compensates for money that doesn't come from the government.

"Five year ago the government allotted three million drams (approximately $5,200) to the seminary, which we used for reconstruction of the first floor," he says. "After that they have never allotted any more money. There are directors of schools, who thanks to their own connections find donors. And very often it happens when they collect money from schoolchildren for different things."

The final expense comes on the first school day, when tradition dictates that children bring flowers for their teachers. This year, prices increased about 500-1,000 drams (about 80 cents to $1.75).

Anyway, September has come and with it the school year. And with that, has come the spending and the complaining. But with it, too, has come the festive mood of butterflies in white shirts starting a new season.



According to Agnes
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Wooly work

Near her home in the center of Yerevan,Flora Sarkissyan, like many Armenian housewives after the season of sheep shearing, prepares wool that will provide warmth when a sunny September day is but a memory.



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