PJ Old Town traders fear for businesses after Covid-19 lockdown befalls area

Soh Eng Seong, owner of Jiang Yu Xiang Trading Sdn Bhd, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Petaling Jaya Old Town May 11, 2020.

PETALING JAYA, May 12 — The enhanced movement control order (EMCO) placed on the vicinity of Petaling Jaya Old Town, after a spike in Covid-19 cases, has business owners worrying that their already-struggling livelihoods could be dealt a deathblow.

With nearly 75 per cent of the quarter now cordoned off with menacing razor wire, some were concerned that customers — already few and far between since the MCO — could vanish altogether.

Among them is the owner of Jiang Yu Xiang Trading Sdn Bhd or Kampung Ikan Bilis, a sundry shop that specialises in dried and preserved ingredients often used in traditional Chinese specialty dishes.

As the store operates just outside the EMCO zone, customers can still be seen queuing up at the shopwhen Malay Mail visited the area to observe the lockdown on Monday.

Owner Soh Eng Seong said that while trade surprisingly increased throughout the initial MCO, the number of patrons has declined since the area opposite his shop was cordoned off, with customers now calling ahead to ask if his store was affected.

“It could be the public holiday, but it could also be the lockdown,” he said when met by Malay Mail at his shop.

For 27 years, Kampung Ikan Bilis has served not only PJ Old Town, it is known also to surrounding townships including Subang Jaya, Sungei Way and as far as Shah Alam.

Soh said that his was the only sundry store that sold dried and preserved ingredients in the vicinity, with his customers having to travel to the city centre when he is closed on Sundays.

Beaten down by lockdowns

But since the lockdown was enforced Sunday across Section 2, 3 and parts of Section 4, Soh is worried that this could soon expand and engulf Section 1 where his shop and many others are located.

          A general view of Petaling Jaya Old Town during the enhanced movement control order May 11, 2020.

The EMCO was enforced after 27 Covid-19 cases were detected in the vicinity, with health authorities now performing active case detection in the area.

“We hope that things will not get worse and that everyone in the lockdown areas will come forward and get tested.

“Otherwise that’s the end of many businesses including mine. As it is we are seeing a slowdown with in-shop traffic,” he said.

Soh related some of his fellow business owners’ struggles, including those who have had to drain their entire life savings in an attempt to keep their stores afloat long enough for a chance at recovery.

“It is horrifying to hear about these stories. I can’t imagine it happening to me,” he said referring to his family-owned business.

He added that since the shop specialises in Chinese cooking ingredients, they were dependent on Chinese cultural festivities throughout the year to boost business.

“Now with Covid-19 in the picture, I have to prepare for the worst.

“Even now, our regular customers have to adapt to switching brands and make do with what is available,” he said referring to canned preserved meat shortage.

Just weeks away, June would typically have been a bumper month for Soh, as it held the dumpling festival that the Chinese celebrate on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

Not long after that are the Hungry Ghost and Mid-Autumn Festivals.

For Soh, however, the concern is that these will likely be lean times instead of the usual period of bumper sales as families feast and celebrate.

Some regulars still visit

For the sake of familiarity and trust, a regular customer who requested anonymity said his family made it a point to come back to his childhood haunt despite having uprooted to the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

“We might have moved out of PJ Old Town but we would still come here for breakfast during the weekends or public holidays like today for food, marketing and pick out fresh ingredients here,” the customer said.

“Otherwise, you can get everything here,” he said.

Were it not for the lockdown, the customer said PJ Old Town would be bustling with activity, particularly the Jalan Othman wet market.

Yet, despite his affinity for the area, even he said he would likely avoid PJ Old Town for the next few months.

“At least until there is assurance that it is safe again,” he added.

Out of the frying pan and into the lockdown fire

Sundry shop owner Padmanathan Jayabalan speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Petaling Jaya Old Town May 11, 2020.

A few rows away, another sundry shop owner, Padmanathan Jayabalan, said trade has all but evaporated since the lockdown.

From customers initially visiting the sundry shop to stock-up on daily provisions, he only had a few walk-ins since Sunday.

“Our regulars are locals who live in residential areas that are under lockdown.

“Usually you can see this street buzzing with people. Now you can count how many people you see on the street.

“If things don’t improve for the next two days, I think we will have to close until the lockdown is over,” he said when met at his shop on Jalan Pasar, about 400 metres away from the Jalan Othman wet market.

Padmanathan said this would allow him to save on day wages paid to his workers and overhead. costs

“We are already in a bad shape because we ordered stocks for the shop and just as we issued payment, the lockdown happened.

“If they had warned us, we would not have ordered these stocks because we can’t sell at all now,” he said, referring to the EMCO and accompanying razor-wire fences that appeared seemingly overnight and out of nowhere.

The Jalan Othman wet market and its surrounding commercial areas came under the EMCO on Sunday after the Health Ministry’s recommendations, following its detection of a possible cluster in the vicinity.

The purpose of the EMCO is to facilitate house-to-house contact tracing measures while at the same time curbing the spread of infection.

Under an EMCO, all residents are prohibited from exiting the designated zone throughout the period imposed and outsiders are also barred as all entry and exit routes are blocked.

“We cannot even cross the street. We were warned by the authorities on the ground that we are prohibited from crossing the road or speak to anyone who called out to us from behind the barbed wires,” he said.

Z24 News

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