By Marcelle Thomas
With the “Back to School” season at fever pitch parents will throng the main shopping centres today focusing primarily on school uniforms, text books, stationery and other essentials for their children’s new school year.
Stabroek News visited some of the major department stores in the city, Ashmin’s, Giftland Office Max, Guyana Stores, Fogarty’s, Payless Variety and bookstore Austin’s, among others. This newspaper also spoke to parents and students as they shopped for various school items and found that almost everyone was “bargain searching”.
At Giftland Office Max department store scores of shoppers were after school items. The sales representative said Giftland is always crowded but during the “Back to School” craze it becomes more congested. She jokingly remarked that “Giftland sells from rope to soap – you can get almost anything and everything here that’s why this place is always packed.”
The store had sale bargains on most school items and the stainless water bottles seemed to be the top seller this year. The sales rep said that these bottles range in cost from $300 to $525 and the store ensured that they were all BPA-free. BPA stands for bisphenol A – BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s.
Giftland said their bottles do not contain bisphenol. The chemical has been linked to the cause of many cancers, especially in children. Management also stated that although some of their items might be more costly it was due to the quality of the products.
Parents who may want to eliminate the hassle of purchasing fabric and then having to search for an affordable and reliable seamstress or tailor could visit any of the stores in the shopping areas. Here they will find completed school uniforms for both private and government schools. Shirts in various colours and sizes are available and the prices begin from $700. White shirts, however, seemed to be in short supply.
Older students who prefer brand-name shirts and students of Bishops’ High School, who require special shirts that can accommodate their neck ties, could purchase these from SN Singh and Daswaney’s and other stores on Regent Street.
In Bourda Market one popular stall owner called Aunty Pam had a large supply of shirts for most government primary schools. She explained that she accepts the government’s uniform voucher and had uniforms for all government primary schools and most of the secondary schools.
Parents at Aunty’s stall were trying to bargain with her, querying why costs for the items had risen from last school year. Some stated that last year they could have purchased two shirts from her stall with their uniform vouchers but this year they had to pay an additional $200. Aunty explained that this increase, she was told by suppliers, was due to higher electricity bills and the cost of fabric so they had no choice but to hike their prices in an effort to ensure a profit.
While there was an array of gym wear bottoms, physical education T-shirts for most government primary and high schools were almost non-existent at the stores checked. With the exception of Guyana Stores, most stores seemed not to carry the special T-shirts but most schools supplied their students with the respective T-shirts as the required fee was included in the yearly registration costs. One sales representative informed that shopping for school items by parents had begun since the end of July. Most parents, she further explained, did not want to be burdened with a one-time shopping. Therefore, they staggered purchases over the course of the two months school vacation.
At stationery stores text books required for examination classes were top sellers. Most of these texts were photocopied and sold not only at bookstores but at department stores and it seemed a trend which had also found favour with pavement vendors. Some vendors were also selling the government-supplied text books to persons from the private schools for large sums.
Textbooks also seemed the costliest item on the shopping lists of parents. It was noted that the Ministry of Education supplies government schools with textbooks for all core subjects but with the increase in parents sending their offspring to private schools countrywide, text book costs have to be taken up by parents. Most government schools, however, still required supplemental books.
Local bookstore owner Lloyd Austin, of Austin’s Bookstore said that there was another steep drop in book sales this year. He added that this was due to Xeroxing of texts as copyright laws were not enforced. Therefore his bookstore did not carry any special back-to-school promotions as he explained “loss of sales has affected my ability to do anything for the public this year …I can’t blame the people for choosing a more cheap option however something needs to be done.”
When SN enquired of parents the reason for their choice of photocopied books, most responded that it was far cheaper compared to purchasing original copies. Marla Williams explained, “I am a single parent and have four children to put out for school. Why should I pay $5095 for this text book (pointing at a popular math text) when here I can get it for $850? Can you imagine if they (storeowner) did not have these books? Nuff people would have had to keep their children home or thief or beg or something – this is bare craziness in this place.”
The average cost of text books for a child writing the Grade Six examinations or the four core subjects; Mathema-tics, English, Social Studies and one science subject at CXC this school year is $54,350 and $75,000 respectively. This sum does not include a dictionary which is required of each child in these grades. The average cost of Xeroxed copies on the same list is $19,220 and $32,440 respectively.
At Austin’s there was a full line of Crayola products at a fraction of the cost displayed at other locations. Play dough for example was sold for $345 for a complete set of various colours when compared to beginning prices of $525 and going all the way to $1145 at other stores.
At all stores there was an array of footwear to choose from but quality was a major consideration.
However brands such as Bjs, Bulldozer and Clarks could be purchased for between $4500 and $24000. Smaller stores also had a variety of “Chinese made footwear” beginning from $1500. The salesclerks at these stores were honest enough to inform Stabroek News that some of these shoes were good for two to three months. Said one shopper “ These things like Bata sawakie is chinee you know but they have to cater for everyone’s pocket. A parent might be more able to buy a shoe every two months for $1500 than take out ten grand one time to buy one.”
Sales representative at Payless Variety Store, Lisa Rajkumar, stated that they would recommend children accompanying parents when shopping, especially for shoes, since some come with a no return policy. She added that for both parents and sales reps it would be more convenient and can eliminate returns and travelling woes. Rajkumar stated that children of the playgroup age can cost parents more in some instances than the older children. The reason, she stated, is that children at this level required more developmental material to meet their needs. They also have to be fitted with aprons, in preparation for spillages during work and play, colouring books, paint, crayons, in some instances potties and other personal effects. She informed that the store catered for all age ranges so Payless could be considered the “one-stop-shop” for parents.
At Ashmin’s this year marketing manager Leslie Bonner informed that the company was tapping into the ready-made uniform market . He added that Ashmin’s recognized the time constraints of parents so they were equipped to meet these demands. The store displayed a variety of stationery and school supplies from pencils to raingear for kids.
Because of the economical prices on wholesale items, parents were seen purchasing stationery in bulk. One father, Edward Lovell, explained, “Every day my son have to get a pencil or something… he waits until we reach the school gate then tell me he has to get this and that so what I doing this year is I see Ashmin get these pencils cheap so I stocking up on everything – rulers sharpeners, erasers and exercise books.”
The store this year launched its own brand of notebooks. The marketing manager explained that because of the substandard quality of books imported and complaints received by parents management decided to approach a printer to supply notebooks. He said that this way Guyanese are able to purchase top quality books with a local band name, at an affordable price.
Notebooks were sold also on the pavement and at most stores in the city. Brands such as Mead and Stead were carried by Austin’s . At Metro Office Supplies the popular Trinpad was in stock.
Backpacks were also in high demand. All the stores visited by Stabroek News had an array of backpacks to choose from. Some storeowners explained that the trend is backpacks on wheels because of the number of texts and the weight of backpacks. These bags began at $350 catering for the playgroup child to $30,000 depending on durability and brand.
Whether shopping at the big department stores, on the pavement, the Water Street Bazaar or the many Chinese stores in Georgetown, parents have found it quite challenging to complete their purchases on limited budgets.