Traditional outdoor markets visited by Dong-A Ilbo’s news team ahead of the Chuseok season still seemed to be heavily affected by the aftermath of last month’s flood. There were many merchants whose bags of grain and refrigerated dry goods, stocked in advance for the holidays, were still awash. Some of the traders managed to buy new facilities through loans to ensure they didn’t miss out on holiday opportunities, but several stores were preparing to close their business as they could no longer afford to continue trading. Some butcher shops have slashed prices of meat products to clear stocks ahead of Typhoon Hinnamnor, which is expected to hit Korea over the weekend.
Most shoppers’ baskets were empty. A head of cabbage cost 10,000 won, while 10 apples cost 40,000 won. The average cost of preparing a meal for a memorial service was 318,045 won this year, up 6.8 percent from last year. To cut costs, consumers try to remove key items such as moon-shaped rice cakes, dried fish or fruit from the menu, but then the meal seems incomplete. Shoppers worry there won’t be enough food for everyone, especially when families come together after the pandemic. The owner of a shop who was once well known for his generous portions refused to meet customers’ eyes, while a sign pointedly advised not to ‘ask more as prices have risen’.
City district mayors and members of Congress visited markets after the flood, asking about the damage. The government has promised to finalize all damage compensation before the holiday. However, there is no news of the 4 million won government disaster relief even after a month and as Chuseok approaches. The slow and cumbersome administrative process remains unchanged even in the face of unprecedented recession and inflation. Traditional open-air markets, once so bustling, are losing their energy and confidence – ahead of Chuseok, the feast of abundance and sharing.