‘Allow us to explore new options’


The popular Zouk KL has been closed since March 18.

OWNERS of entertainment establishments in Kuala Lumpur are asking the government to ease restrictions to enable them to open and salvage their business.

These operators of nightclubs, pubs, bars and karaoke lounges are also seeking some form of flexibility in licensing.

After being forced to close for almost eight months – since the movement control order came into effect on March 18 – and having no means to cut their losses,

they are hoping that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) will allow them to explore new options during the interim period.

They are looking for ways to transform their premises into viable alternatives to their current business, which will not jeopardise the government’s effort in containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

They urge DBKL to allow dance clubs with kitchen facilities to operate as a cafe, and those without a kitchen to be able to rent out the space for studio or gym facility.

This, they said, was so that they could keep their staff employed.

The Restaurant and Bistro Owners Association (RBOA) has made several appeals to the government to allow the nightclubs and pubs some leeway to stay alive, but they say their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

RBOA’s media advisor Jeremy Lim told StarMetro that businesses that were disallowed to operate should be supported in exploring other options.

He cited the Zouk club in Singapore as an example.

“Zouk Singapore turned the underutilised dance floor into a cycling gym by day and a movie theatre at night.

“That is a good way of staying alive and we are hoping the authorities here will allow us some leeway in repurposing our space to help keep our businesses going, ” he said.

When the government announced the recovery MCO on June 10, a total 11 activities were ordered to stop until further notice.

Nightclubs, bars and pubs are among them.

The government made an exception for restaurants, pubs and bars with licence from DBKL to serve food and liquor licence from the Customs Department.

Outlets without the required permits had to remain closed.

Lim suggested that DBKL take a leaf out of Singapore’s book, and allow nightclub operators to temporarily convert their outlets into other types of businesses.

“Allowing the space to be utilised in other ways will help to keep businesses alive.

“We hope DBKL is open to this idea and allow owners to submit a simple (licence) application for this.

“It will help greatly if the authority can make the process smooth and simple, ” he said.

He stressed that RBOA members would not want to jeopardise their business licence in anyway.

The management of Zouk Kuala Lumpur agrees with Lim.

Zouk Club (KL) Sdn Bhd general manager Yean Ng said they had zero revenue since mid-March and more than 100 staff were on unpaid leave.

“Needless to say, we are not doing well and are discussing options.

“We welcome any flexibility in how we can use our premises and licence to do what Singapore has done, ” she said.

She lamented that the industry had been overlooked by the government.

Both Lim and Ng hoped the government would give the landlords tax rebates on rental so that the tenants, in turn, would benefit from reduced rent, as well as offer discounts on licence like what the Singapore government did.

“The more businesses close down, the more Malaysians are going to be out of a job.

“We want to stay afloat and provide work for people.

“But many are unable to retain workers as they also need to pay the merchandise suppliers and rent for the premises, among other expenses, ” said Lim, who is also managing director of the Dragonfly nightclub as well as the Blackbyrd Dine and Lounge outlets.

In July, StarMetro reported that nearly 20% of Kuala Lumpur’s nightclubs were having to shut down due to lack of business since the March 18 MCO.

However, according to industry sources who spoke to StarMetro recently, that number has increased significantly.

“If you actually do a headcount, say by going from one neighbourhood bar or restaurant to another, you will notice that many have already closed down permanently and more are on the verge of doing so, ” Lim pointed out.

He said the vegetable, ice and alcohol suppliers had said that many outlets had closed down.

“The suppliers are also left in the lurch as they have not been paid for their goods.

“This shows that things are bad and will get worse.

“That is why the government should look at these issues in a more sustainable manner.”

He highlighted that association members were aware of the rising number of new Covid-19 infections.

“We are not lobbying to reopen the clubs and bars presently. We only want to ease our burden, ” he reiterated.

Kelvin Lam, the general manager of TREC Holdings Sdn Bhd which operates the well-known entertainment and food-and-beverage enclave in Jalan Tun Razak, said he was not opposed to the idea of repurposing their business space as an interim measure to keep businesses afloat.

“At least the entertainment business, which accounts for 70% of our tenants, that have been closed for eight months will have a chance of survival by operating a cafe or something else viable, ” he said.

He further said that although TREC’s remaining 30% of tenants in the food-and-beverage sector were allowed to operate, they too were struggling to survive because of MCO restrictions.

“The restaurants here have seen footfall drop by 70% as customers are still mostly staying away from eating out.

“Even though we have waived rental for them, the losses suffered are in the vicinity of RM20mil since the MCO’s implementation.

“And at least 60% of employees from accounting, managerial and events management to kitchen staff, bartenders, waiters, entertainers, security guards, cleaners and valet had to be let go.

“It is devastating, ’’ he added.

While open to the idea of allowing entertainment outlets to temporarily operate in other business modes, Lam pointed out that tenants had spent millions to renovate their premises for their original purpose, so it would not be easy.

“However, it is better than nothing, provided there is strict compliance with the standard operating procedures like no deejay and live band.

“But we hope they would at least be allowed to play soft music for diners, ” he added.

Godwin Pereira, founder and chief executive officer of South-East Asian club brand Kyo, agreed with the idea of allowing clubs to navigate their options.

“It is okay as a temporary measure, but it may not be for everyone, ” he noted.

“Kyo is a full-fledged dance club, not a restaurant.

“We would have to change our set-up, renovate and spend more money. Would it be worth it?

“We are operating inside a five-star building, we are not a small joint, ” he said.

“We prefer if the authorities ease up on restrictions and allow us to operate, that will be better than nothing, ” added Pereira.

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