Meera Srinivasan talks to parents and children buying school supplies at the wholesale market

When rolls of brown paper wrappers tucked in cardboard boxes peep out and greet you from either side of Bunder Street, you know that the new academic year is not far away. This narrow lane in George Town is brimming with new stationery, and makes you wish you were in school again.

What was once a hub of wholesale retailers is now increasingly attracting individual customers and families. Arundathi was seen running her little fingers over rows of notebooks stacked in one of the lower shelves at one of the stores. After a quick audit, she settled for a hard-bound notebook and looked at her mother for approval.

All smiles, the student of Infant Jesus Primary School in Manali New Town, said, “This will be my rough note book when I go to class I.”

Lower prices, more variety and the sheer joy of looking at boxes and boxes of pens and pencils seem reasons enough for many to choose this congested lane over air-conditioned showrooms.

“I wanted my daughter to get a feel of this place — there's so much to choose from. The prices are reasonable too,” said M. Semmalar, Arundathi's mother.

There were several others making enviable purchases in the market. Some like Vaishnavi Devi had come all the way from Tiruvallur District. “These are for my school. Some are for office use, and the rest are to gift children on their birthdays,” said the correspondent of Om Sri Vivekananda Matriculation School in Perambakkam.

The stock comes from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and of course, China. “Items from China have begun dominating this market. The variety and colours they come up with is unbelievable. And the rates are quite low,” said J. Kuppusamy, who has spent the last four decades as manager at Navrang Agencies.

“We do seasonal business — stationery during vacation, crackers ahead of Deepavali and political party paraphernalia during election time. But stationery sales account for a huge chunk of our business — easily over Rs. 10 lakh every year,” he said.

In fact, stationery business seems so lucrative that Sarva Lakshmi Stores on the same lane has started making notebooks. “Many people like to buy notebooks in bulk for donation. So, we decided to make our own products to ensure quality,” said the owner M. Balaji, pointing to a notebook with film director Perarasu on the cover. “He gives away notebooks to children and places bulk orders with us.”

Some manufactures attempting novelty have even come up with an ‘alphabet band' to be worn around the wrist, after a child strings together her choice of letters.

There are also ‘water bags' that look like a cross between a water sachet and a bottle, again from China. More interestingly, there are white, opaque sheets in plastic, quite a contrast to the brown sheets we are used to. “They are the new book wrappers. Everyone wants a change, you see,” said Mr. Kuppusamy.


Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012