PASAR Besar Jalan Othman – better known as PJ Old Town Market – has seen some changes in the past few months, notably after the detection of several Covid-19 cases.
In the ensuing closure for extensive sanitisation, Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) decided to carry out renovations to improve the conditions at the premises.
Work on the city’s oldest wet market included installing perimeter fence and gates and repairing some of the broken tiles.
For several months after it reopened, only one gate was available as the sole access to the market for traders, customers and delivery trucks.
“I only go to the market at off-peak times on weekdays, about two to three times a week, to avoid the crowd, ” said Chan Yuit Hou, 63.
“The crowd is much bigger on weekends and in the morning. With only one gate as access, the queue is very long at peak hours.
“It will be better if the authorities open more gates so the queues are shorter, and station more enforcement officers there on weekends to manage the crowd.”
A resident of Section 1B, Petaling Jaya, for over 40 years, Chan noted that there were fewer stalls at the market now and thus less variety.
“Sometimes I get my meat and seafood from nearby shops, as these places are cleaner and offer better variety.
“Some of my neighbours also go to the shops near the market or buy online, because of health and safety concerns, ” she added.
Leong Hin Choong, 41, said the single gate access was very inconvenient and taxing for the elderly.
“So my family worked out a routine where my parents, who are in their 70s, go on weekdays to buy produce to last one or two days while I go on weekends to ‘top up’ and carry the heavier items.”
Leong, whose family has been living in Section 2 since the 1950s, said Pasar Besar Jalan Othman had over 600 stalls at its peak and served as a one-stop place to buy most household items as well as get tailoring
“However, business is so bad these days that it seems less than half of the market stalls are occupied.
“I heard some of the traders left and switched to operating their own mini markets.
“The local council should be credited for making this wet market cleaner and more organised.
“But they should have planned the facilities better when they
integrated traders from PJ New Town and PJ Old Town into a single market; Pasar Besar Jalan Othman lacks a proper loading bay and cold room, ” he said.Gate access
Pasar Besar Jalan Othman Traders Association vice-president N. Rajaratnam said the market had seen as much as a 70% drop in customers since renovations were completed in October last year and due to the movement control order.
“Out of the 10 gates here, initially only one (facing Jalan Othman 4/40) was kept open as the entry and exit to the market.
“This posed a lot of problems as customers had to take a longer route to get to the market and it was particularly difficult for the elderly with heavy bags after marketing.
“Lorries had to wait a longer time to unload their goods since they all had to use the same gate.
“However, since the market’s unloading times are limited to only certain hours in the morning and afternoon, not all drivers are willing to wait, so they just move on to their next destination, ” he said.
In response to the association’s letter of appeal, MBPJ opened a second gate – that leads onto Jalan Terus 4/42 – in mid-February.
However, the association hopes the council will open another two gates to allow more access points.
Dry goods seller Dorai Govindran said the situation was particularly dire for traders like him whose stalls were located on the upper floor and could only be accessed using stairs.
“Customers already find it difficult to come to the market with the one gate, what more climbing up stairs to buy spices and household items, ” he said.
“Some customers never returned after Covid-19 cases were detected at the market, although none of us traders on the upper floor contracted the virus, ” added Dorai, who has been in business for more than 20 years.
The association is also appealing to MBPJ to revise the rental rates since traders’ business has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The rental increased by at least 400% after the renovation. I used to pay RM50 per month before the pandemic, now I am paying RM350 per month, ” said Rajaratnam, who has been selling chicken for more than 20 years.
“Those of us who need to use a freezer to keep our stock, such as chicken and seafood, now have to pay between RM150 and RM250 monthly for the space to instal that facility, when we didn’t have to before the pandemic.
Another bone of contention is the ban on slaughter of chicken in the premises.
“Although there is a dedicated space within the market to slaughter chicken, we are not allowed to do so now after the renovation work.
“So we have to ask our suppliers to slaughter the chicken, but this means they charge us a higher price for the service and the chickens are not as fresh as they can be by the time the stock arrives, ” he added.
While there are 571 lots at the market located over two floors, Rajaratnam said only over 200 lots are occupied currently as some traders had given up due to their inability to cope with the drop in business and increased rental.
Since the government disallowed foreign workers to work at wet markets starting last year, trader Abdul Aziz Abdullah said getting reliable local employees was a problem.
“More than 1,000 Malaysians turned up for the interviews last year.
“However, most of them couldn’t last, citing difficulty in waking up early and not being used to hard labour.
“I hired two locals on different days. Each lasted only one day and left without giving any notice, ” said the mutton seller of over 30 years.
“From having four to five people to run a stall, we now have only one or two persons per stall and they have to manage everything, from unloading goods to preparing the stall and attending to customers.”
Abdul Aziz said he could not take a sick day as that would mean having zero income.
The association also hopes the authorities will allow the market to be opened earlier for traders to cater to the early birds among customers.
“Before the MCO, some customers came as early as 5am as they had to get ingredients to cook breakfast in their canteen or eatery business, ” said Rajaratnam.
“If restaurants are allowed to start operations at 6am, then markets should be allowed to open earlier so that food operators can get fresh supplies.
“Pasar Besar Jalan Othman caters not only to individuals but also people who own businesses, such as restaurants and mini markets, ” he pointed out.
Rajaratnam also called on MBPJ to include the association’s representatives in meetings regarding Pasar Besar Jalan Othman to get traders’ input when making decisions that affected them.
“At the moment, the meetings are attended only by MBPJ officers and councillors.
“We understand the on-ground situation better.
“For example, MBPJ welcomed people from the B40 group to take up the unoccupied lots but charged over RM1,000 in deposit and rental.
“These upfront fees are high and many new traders have given up due to the low number of customers.
“The association suggests that MBPJ waive certain fees in the initial months to encourage more traders to start their business here.”
He added that it was confusing having to deal with four different council departments on different issues.