Dishing out a desperate SOS

The Medan Renong food court at the Esplanade is void of customers. — Photos: ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

HAWKERS — once the stars of Penang’s food paradise scene — are crying out for help from the state.

Without domestic tourism to keep business going, many of them find their incomes have fallen by 90%. Some of the hawker centres have even closed.

“Nowadays, we cannot even earn in 10 days what we used to earn in a day before the pandemic hit, ” said noodle hawker Oung Kok Ghee, 48.

“Times are hard and we really hope there can be solutions or measures that the authorities can take to help us, ” he added.

He sells noodles at Medan Renong food court at the Esplanade. The scenic seaside joint used to be a magnet for tourists but is seldom visited now.

Oung said out of 20 stalls there, only three were still open ever since the conditional movement control order (MCO) came into force again.

“A lot of them cannot bear the operating cost when there are hardly any customers.

“The earlier aid from the state when the MCO began in March is used up.

“A lot of us used the money to pay loans and cover business costs, ” he said when met at his stall.

Medan Renong Hawkers Association vice-president Jamil Kader Gani, 34, said a lot of hawkers tried to take their businesses online by using food delivery companies and e-wallets.

“This helps but it is not enough to sustain us.

“Nowadays, the food court is so empty that most of our workers just sit around and some hawkers have to ask their workers to work on shift to save cost, ” he said.

At the New Lane hawker centre off Jalan Macalister, drink stall owner Seow Yee Phang, 65, said a lot of hawkers are suffering due to the low number of patrons.

“If the state is willing to help us out with subsidies or incentives, it will be great as we still have weeks to go and we all need to sustain or we will have to close.

At the hawker centre in Gurney Drive, only six hawker stalls were found open.

Char Koay Teow stall owner Law Suun Chi, 41, whose family has been in business there for some 30 years, said all the hawkers there are suffering badly from the conditional MCO.

“We can still open for now as we are able to sustain with the little savings we have, but not all of us can keep going like this.

“For me, I am grateful to my regular customers and I really hope I can ride this out.

“But if possible, it will be great for the state to help us hawkers with some subsidy or help us by cutting down rentals, ” he said.

After their plight was recently highlighted in The Star, Pulau Tikus assemblyman Chris Lee Chun Kit went to meet them to discuss ways to promote this once popular hawker centre.

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