The Antique Strip: Jakarta, West Java

Since the 1980s people have been visiting Jl. Ciputat Raya, the street that divides Tangerang and South Jakarta, for its antiques and teak furniture. Yet, many shop owners say the business is in a slump, and has been for quite awhile now.

“Foreigners used to come here, wandering from one shop to the next. But now, I seldom see any,” muttered a meatball vendor, who has been taking the same route through the area for more than 20 years.

He was resting on a rotting wooden bench on the side of the two-kilometer strip Monday.

Deddy, who helps his uncle run an antique shop that opened in 1988, said: “Between 1995 and 1998, business was booming. In a month we could send two to three 20-foot containers to our wholesalers in Europe. But now, we consider two containers a year doing alright”.

There are two customer types in the business: those who make purchases for their own homes, or for someone they know, and wholesalers — usually foreigners — who sell the furniture abroad.
Deddy has two shops on Ciputat Raya and a third in Bali — all of them target expatriates.

He said his prices started at Rp 750,000 (US$79.80) for a chair or a corner table.

“Previously, our shop stocked mostly bronze and stone statues and artifacts — porcelain and rustic woodwork. In 1990, we got into antique furniture, as well as reproduction,” Deddy said, adding that the shop used to have 80 workers, but now had 25.
Yet, he said each shop had a monthly turnover of Rp 60 million from individual customers.

Not everyone in the business is as fortunate.

“I used to sell antiques but then I switched to selling only reproductions of old teak furniture. Antiques are just too hard to sell,” said Sam, who opened his shop a decade ago.

“My Spanish customer has not contacted me for six months, while back in the heyday of the business, he put in orders on a weekly basis,” said another trader, Rudi, 40, adding that he earned Rp 10 million a month, most of which went back into the business.

In Rudi’s shop, a Betawi-style table and four chairs is priced at Rp 750,000.

The majority of the traders along Jl. Ciputat Raya, officially known as Jl. Ir. H. Juanda, are from Padang, West Sumatra.

Only 5 percent of them deal in antiques only, the rest sell a combination of furniture made to look like it is antique and furniture in other styles made from teak from West Java, Lampung, and Kalimantan.

Budi, not his real name, acknowledged that some 90 percent of the furniture sold in his shop was not the real thing.

“The price can be two to three times less than that of authentic antiques.”

“Few people know anything about antiques. I cater to the needs of people who are simply drawn to classical designs,” Budi said.

“Wholesale customers from Italy and the Netherlands used to contact me weekly, now they might only come once in two months,” Budi said.

Despite all that, Budi is confident about the future of his business: “every home needs furniture. Furniture is just like clothing. When people are bored with their old clothes, they buy new ones.”

During the economic crisis of 1997 and 1998, business along the street, especially the antiques, boomed due to the weakening rupiah against the dollar. As the rupiah strengthened, less foreign buyers came.

Asti, who has lived in the area since 1989 and travels between her home and her office every day through Jl. Ciputat Raya, said she had never shopped there.

“Although I like antiques, I only buy furniture based on its function and whether I can afford it.”

Leena, an expatriate who has worked in Jakarta for the last two years and only gave her first name said: “First, I have to like what I see. Then, if the price is right, I will buy it”.

Leena, who was browsing at one of the antique shops targeting expatriates, added that she preferred to buy furniture made of old teak so that if she took it back to her country, Finland, it would not buckle or bend due to the extreme climate change.
Budi and Deddy agreed that maintaining high standards was the only way to keep their businesses afloat.

Deddy added that after-sales service was also important, “In the hope that it will lead to customers recommending my shop to their relatives and friends, even a minor complaint is accommodated”.

As the sun went down, an antique shop down the street closed after two visitors left through its old teak doors without making any purchases.

Source: Jakarta Post