Hawkers find ways to stay afloat

Only one stall selling rojak is open while many are closed at the once popular Anjung Gurney hawker centre in Gurney Drive, Penang. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

HAWKERS, the pride of Penang and once tourist attractions in their own right, have been hard-hit by efforts to flatten the Covid-19 infection curve.

But many have found footholds to survive and some interviewed have boiled down their strategies to three: stop waiting for dine-ins and interstate travelling, reduce reliance on food delivery riders and pay special attention to current regular customers.

At Fisherman’s Wharf in Karpal Singh Drive, noodle stall owner Tay Lee Chin, 63, is one of those who do just that.

“As dine-ins have been restricted for too long and it is too costly for hawkers to continuously rely on delivery riders, we have to come up with new measures.

“Nowadays, hawkers who can continue operating rely on regulars. We focus on giving more options to regular customers.

“One of the ways is to give them our contacts directly so that they can make orders by call or messages, and then drive over to pick up their orders.

“It is more convenient for them and they do not have to wait.

Koo: To ensure that we sustain our business, we give out our contacts to our close regular customersKoo: To ensure that we sustain our business, we give out our contacts to our close regular customers

“For some, I will even walk to the entrance to bring their orders while they stay in their cars,” she said.

Another hawker, economy rice seller Susilawati Goyo, 48, has also found value in maintaining contact with customers who like her cooking.

“I provide contacts to my regulars and they drop their orders by phone ahead of time.

“But as I sell economy rice, it is harder to do it this way because people prefer to choose the dishes on their own.

“Thus, I am coming up with offers such as ‘buy 10, free one packet’ or a discount depending on the number of orders I get,” she added.

At New Lane hawker centre off Jalan Macalister, the remaining hawkers look out for regulars to sustain their business.

Porridge stall owner Koo Kim Loo, 52, said half of the hawkers there closed down a few months ago.

“The remaining ones rely on regulars. This place used to be a popular hawker site for tourists and without tourists, we only have regulars.

Khoo: Most regulars collect takeaways themselves from his chicken rice stallKhoo: Most regulars collect takeaways themselves from his chicken rice stall

“Because there are not many residential areas in the city area, we must rely on regulars who pass by while out on work or errands.

“To ensure that we sustain our business, we give out our contacts to our close regular customers.

“Some customers simply call to check if we are open before coming,” she said.

Chicken rice seller Khoo Hock Guan, 51, still relies on food delivery riders but most of his regulars collect takeaways themselves now.

“Our regulars have our phone numbers.

“We do not give it to everyone, only those who ask. We will bring their orders to them while they wait in the car.

“This is convenient for them and we can at least earn a little bit more,” he said.

Tay: We focus on giving more options to regular customersTay: We focus on giving more options to regular customers

At Medan Renong food court at the Esplanade, hawkers reported a 90% drop in business with only a few remaining stalls operating.

This seaside food court used to be a haunt of tourists who crave for Penang-style pasembur, which includes hearty condiments like prawns and crabs.

Pasembur stall owner Jamil Kader Gani, 35, said currently, only five stalls are operating.

“The other stall owners are unable to cover operating costs or earn enough so they are taking a break.

“For the few of us remaining, we rely largely on regulars from other states.

“These are people with permission to travel to Penang for work or business and they often call us to check if we are open when they are in Penang.

“Then they drop by to buy a few packs to take home,” he said.

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