By  on April 27, 2010

BANGKOK, Thailand — Bangkok malls, which have been closed for almost a month as antigovernment protestors have massed outside their doors, are looking for ways to help the small shops that are struggling as the protests stretch into their seventh week.

At Siam Paragon, Bangkok’s upscale luxury mall, management is considering lowering rents, hiring shop employees who haven’t been able to work and redesigning marketing plans for the rest of the year to help tenants regain business, said a spokesman for Siam Paragon Development Corp. The mall has managed to open only five days during the past month.

International retailers with outlets in Siam Paragon, meanwhile, have trucked most of their merchandise to other outlets in the city to weather the antigovernment storm.

“We told them to do that,” the spokesman said. “If you walk through the mall now, you will see the stores are completely empty.”

The International Fashion Fair, held annually by Siam Paragon in early April to showcase summer fashions, was canceled and has been tentatively rescheduled for next month.

“Fashion won’t wait,” the Siam Paragon spokesman said. “They’ve missed the summer season.”

The antigovernment protestors, who call themselves the Red Shirts, have blocked the central retailing district around the Ratchaprasong intersection for six weeks in a bid to topple Thailand’s government. They have blocked the entrance to shopping malls and threatened to invade them if the government cracks down on their protests.

Meetings were planned last week by the Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association and the Thai Shopping Center Association to seek solutions to help the ailing retailers, but were canceled when grenades exploded near a protest site, killing one person. Retailers said they plan to try to meet again this week as the government has asked them to convene to discuss a solution.

“Many have reached a crisis point,” said a spokeswoman for the Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association.

Members of the organization have started a relief fund to assist the small retailers that have been hardest hit by the forced closures, she said.

“But we also need to calculate how much money has been lost,” she said. “Thousands of small retailers are hurting.”

Management at Gaysorn Shopping Center, another luxury mall shuttered by the protests, is expected to meet this week to discuss rents in an effort to help their tenants, a spokeswoman said.

Somphols Manarangsan, a political economist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said the business climate in the city is worsening and the deadlock between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Red Shirts portends more violence. Some hard-hit businesses are lobbying the government to lower business taxes to ease the crisis, he said.

“It’s very difficult to say when all this will end,” Somphols said. “The coalition party is still cooperating with the government, but the government isn’t doing enough to end the protests.”

The Thailand government said Monday the political turmoil could reduce this year’s gross domestic product by 0.64 percent, or about $1.25 billion.

Bank of Thailand officials have expressed concern about the rallies, which have paralyzed the retailing center of the city, and are waiting on second quarter economic figures to gauge how severe the damage has been and what steps to take.

Some commercial banks have eased mortgage and personal loan conditions on individual borrowers who have been unemployed because of the protests. The loan extension program was set up last year to help borrowers deal with the international economic downturn and was to end in June. Banks are ready to extend the benefits.

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