BANGKOK — Malls and major retailers here have returned to their normal closing hours after the lifting of a nationwide curfew, although the military coup that took place last month continues to rattle the economy.
The military junta lifted its nationwide curfew last week while General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the de facto leader of the country, declared that he is going to install an interim government in August.
Retailers reacted almost immediately by extending their opening hours to the usual 10 p.m. from the 8 p.m. or earlier that had been imposed by the curfew.
But last Saturday, which is usually the busiest evening of the week for stores and boutiques in Bangkok, many stores remained almost empty.
On Sukumvit, at Robinson, which is one of the oldest department stores in Southeast Asia, virtually all floors and areas were empty at 9 p.m. even though designer stores from Daniel Hechter to Pepe Jeans London were offering discounts ranging from 15 percent to 70 percent.
Asked why Lacoste was one of the few stores at Robinson that is not advertising deep discounts, a representative replied laconically: “It is actually a waste of paper. Others are advertising SALE, but there are no costumers here anyway; no one is buying. You offer 20, 50, 80 percent, or you offer nothing… If you have only four customers per each floor, it is clear that you will sell nothing.”
The Thai economy is depressed and continues to contract, while the coup leaves the future of many Thais even more uncertain. Meanwhile, foreign tourists, long a source of revenue for the country, continue to stay away. While there are no reliable post-coup statistics, the decline in overseas tourists is clear at the arrival hall of Suvarnabhumi International Airport outside Bangkok.
Until recently, malls were where the resistance to the coup had been concentrated, and where people were giving their “three fingers salute,” a symbol of defiance against the military rule. While the curfew has been lifted, it is still illegal to criticize the coup, as well as the monarchy and the military.
Last Sunday, one of the newest malls in Bangkok, Terminal 21, was clearly empty, too. Its two prestigious floors, Tokyo and London, saw just few customers, while the salespeople were seen openly texting.
Both shoppers and retailers are reluctant to speak on the record since even talking about retail could be “political” or seen as critical of the coup. While tanks and heavy armored vehicles have left the center of Bangkok, police, army and paramilitary groups are still clearly visible, controlling all major intersections, as well as malls, department stores, museums and public transportation stations.
“I don’t know what the numbers really are,” explained Emily, a 32-year-old businesswoman from London, who preferred to be identified only by her first name, “But this is absolutely evident, isn’t it? There are no shoppers in Bangkok, compared to how it used to be one year ago. Things are falling apart.”
Right in the middle of Sukumvit shopping avenue, The Westin Grand Sukumvit Hotel stopped serving breakfasts in the lounge for its Platinum members. “There is no point,” explained the lounge attendant. “Our occupancy is below 40 percent.”
A few BTS Sky Train stations away, in between two huge wings of the legendary Paragon Mall, the army has set up its camp. This is exactly where the Paragon used to host raucous rock concerts every weekend before the coup.