Pettah is a world unto its own. It is a place where, if you know where to look, one can find anything and everything. Be it electronics, paper, fabric, detergent, makeup, or even sweets, these are all hidden away in that web of people and rickety buildings, waiting to be discovered.
Where To Find Anything And Everything
For those who do not know Pettah, it is the mother of all marketplaces in the country. It is a whole region of Colombo which is dedicated to wholesale and retail shopping and, as mentioned before, other than the vegetables and fish (those have separate markets), anything and everything can be found here. This area, also known as ‘Pita Kotuwa’ or outer Fort, is the most functional market of the country with each section or street dedicated to a certain type of goods. Thus, if you know your streets, finding the perfect saree jacket material or cheap kitchenware is simply a matter of walking a few miles amid hundreds of bustling shoppers, vehicles, shouting vendors, and sweaty workers. Although it paints a slightly intimidating picture, it is one of the most interesting and vibrant places in the country, filled with life and colour.
The entrance to Pettah is marked by the unmistakable Khan Clock Tower down Sir Baron Jayathilake Mawatha. As the streets are formed in a grid pattern, the market can be accessed from any direction. There are also a few secondary entrances from Olcott Mawatha, which connects to both the main bus terminal and the Fort railway station.
The Best Place(s) To Stock Up On Stationery
The stationery shops of pettah are a combination of stores selling everything from the basics such as pens and pencils at wholesale prices, to the rare wax paper or unique wedding invitations. From design students to the cost-cutting bride, many a Colombo denizen has been grateful for this hidden treasure trove that assists one in the never-ending battle against a tight budget.
Maliban Street and Second Cross Street
The two primary streets for stationery shopping in Pettah are Maliban Street and Second Cross Street. Anyone who has been involved in a Sri Lankan wedding would know Maliban Street. It is filled with shops offering hundreds of different designs for invitation cards at bargain prices and they are yet to disappoint a hopeful couple. These streets are also the places you need to go to for all office stationery needs ‒ to purchase paper, ink, pens, and staplers at wholesale bargain prices.
While everyone knows Maliban Street, few know of Kosala Lane. As a design student or someone interested in making cards or needing fancy paper for a project, this is the place to be. It is the first tiny dingy lane off Maliban Street when walking from the direction of Malwatta Road or the car park, and is often easily missed.
Walk down this street, and on either side are tiny pocket-sized stores selling paper of all types, at half the price of any retail store in Colombo. Unlike the shops along Maliban Street, which only sell in bulk and mostly as rolls of paper, most of these shops sell cut pieces from factories, and sell paper based on weight. The fancier shops (as per Kosala Lane standards) such as ‘Colombo Papers’ will sell you sheets instead.
This is also one of the few places in Colombo where one can purchase sketch paper which has not been bound. Even here, there are only one or two stores which sell wax sheets at roughly Rs. 300 a kilo, which is usually enough to make a decent sized sketchbook. A little hunting will be necessary to find paper with interesting textures and patterns, buried under, and a little bargaining will do no harm. A few shops have cutting machines and for an extra Rs. 100, will cut the paper to the size you require.
Next is Prince Street. Right at the mouth of Kosala Lane is a little shop famous for its recycled paper called ‘Prince Trade Center’ and has piles and piles of paper and boards stacked up. Sifting through it won’t be easy, but is bound to be rewarding.
These shops are few of the many hidden gems of Pettah. While shop owners purchase from these same stores at bargain prices, the average consumer needs to pay double the amount when purchasing from the stores closer to home. Especially for design students and those who require this form of paper for their businesses, to make boxes, cards, or hand crafted wedding invitations, a visit to Pettah’s hidden stationery shops will do a world of good. It is definitely an experience to remember and significantly easier on the purse.
Featured image credit: Roar.lk/Minaali Haputantri