Shuttered stores leave ajummas red in the face

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Shuttered stores leave ajummas red in the face

Almost three in four stores run by Korea’s three major retailers were closed on Sunday as the government enforced its mandatory shutdown of discount chains on certain days to help balance economic growth by giving smaller stores a chance to cash in.

However, many consumers were not amused by the move, which began taking affect on April 22. The remaining 27 percent of the 369 discount store chains operated by E-Mart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart will be shuttered in the next few months.

“I came here especially to buy gifts because all the stores in my neighborhood were shut,” said Cho Min-seok, a resident of Yangjae, southern Seoul, who was still unable to find a store that was open after 30 minutes of driving. “I can’t get such good quality gifts at traditional markets or my local shops, so I have to go to the big stores. But now I’ll have to find a [more expensive] department store.”

On April 22, 114 stores were closed, but the number jumped to 270 two days ago as more local councils participated. Each district can choose on which two days to shutter stores, but most are opting for the second and fourth Sundays of the month.

Outside E-Mart’s Yangjae store just before lunch on Sunday, a typical scene involved groups of ajumma, or middle-aged Korean woman, shouting in displeasure after being greeted by banners announcing that the store was closed, then climbing back in their cars and driving off.

Homeplus, the nation’s No. 2 player, was hit the hardest as 81 percent of its 129 stores were closed two days ago. E-Mart fared slightly better as just 68 percent of its 144 stores were not open and Lotte Mart had to close 70 percent of its 96 stores.

While consumers and big retailers fretted over the mandatory closure, mom-and-pop stores and traditional markets saw their sales boom.

Statistics supplied by the Agency for Traditional Market Administration on May 31 showed that sales at local markets rose 12.4 percent on May 27, when more large stores were closed, compared to the previous Sunday.

Some critics said the policy is hurting the local work force as large stores will have less overtime or fewer positions to offer if they have to close on highly lucrative weekends.

By Kim Mi-ju[mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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