Pandemic sends Sunday art and food market in Indonesia online

When the pandemic shuttered businesses in Indonesia, an art and cultural community moved their Sunday market online. That has opened the door to more sellers, enabling them to survive the economic downturn.

Achmad Ibrahim/AP
Organizers prepare packages to be shipped to customers during the Pahingan Sunday Market in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 29, 2020. The online event was run by Omah Wulangreh, an art and cultural community, and is held every 35 days, following the five-day Javanese calendar.

Rani Nurwitawati never thought she would lose her job at an Indonesian market research company where she worked for 17 years.

The reality hit months after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The impact is quite big for me,” Ms. Nurwitawati said. “My brother lost his job, my sister got a 25% pay cut. And finally, I also lost my job.”

Armed with the knowledge from her former employer that the food and beverage business will survive during the economic downturn, Ms. Nurwitawati decided to start selling food from her own kitchen.

She found an ally in Omah Wulangreh, an art and cultural community in South Jakarta that began an online version of the Pahingan Sunday market in August, only days after Ms. Nurwitawati lost her job.

The community used to host the Sunday market at its location, but it only accommodated limited tenants. As the pandemic tore through Indonesia, leaving many without income, the artists moved the market online, providing space for sellers to register online while buyers are required to preorder.

Sellers must follow some rules, including offering local artisan products and use minimum plastic packaging.

Aside from providing income for her daily living, Ms. Nurwitawati said that the Sunday market is giving her more experience in operating a new business.

“I have learned about networking, got new knowledge, and more people know my products,” she said. “When I joined for the first time, I was really sad because there was only one buyer, after that it increased to more than 10. It was not bad, from less than one 100,000 rupiah [$7] to hundreds of thousands rupiah.”

She prepares baked spaghetti and mango sticky rice.

Parahita Satiti also joined the Sunday market. She has always dreamed of running a business related to traditional fashion products. She hopes to get extra income after her office cut her monthly allowance by half during the pandemic. She sells traditional Javanese kebaya – women’s upper long-sleeved clothes – and camisole – a loose-fitting sleeveless undergarment – made of Javanese batik cloth.

“This is a new business, but seeing the enthusiasm and orders from the Pahingan Sunday market, I think it will be a promising business for me,” Ms. Satiti said.

Reny Ajeng, one of the organizers of the Sunday market, said it’s held once every 35 days, following the five-day Javanese calendar.

Strict social restrictions imposed in Indonesia during the pandemic have stopped the physical market as well as other cultural and art activities at Omah Wulangreh. The online version came to life when Ms. Reny and her six friends decided to launch it in early August.

There were 46 tenants who joined the third online event last month. Buyers had one week to pre-order items, such as traditional snacks, batik clothes, or coffee. During one week, there were almost 500 items sold, worth about 25 million rupiah ($1,770).

“To be honest, we are really happy,” Ms. Reny said. “Our first mission was to make an online Sunday market since we can do nothing offline during the pandemic. But it turns out, enthusiasm is high, so many sellers are having high hopes.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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