Decades-old shops hopeful as business slowly picks up


Phang repairing a watch at his shop in Jalan Trus, Johor Baru.

SHOPOWNERS in downtown Johor Baru are hoping business will improve when Malaysia moves into the Covid-19 endemic phase by the end of October.

Most of the shops here have been around for decades, including the century-old Hiap Joo Bakery & Biscuit Factory, famous for its banana cakes baked in a coal-fired oven, that are popular with locals and Singaporeans.Lim hopes business will be in full swing once the border between Malaysia and Singapore reopens.Lim hopes business will be in full swing once the border between Malaysia and Singapore reopens.

The bakery at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee usually sees a long queue by 11am pre-Covid-19 but the pandemic has changed all of that.

“Our sales dropped by 80% since the start of the first movement control order in March last year,” said Lim Toh Shin, 41, who manages the bakery’s operations.

He said the business had relied on domestic demand and regular deliveries to Singapore to cater for customers in the republic starting September last year.

Lim said prior to the MCO, weekends were a busy period as the shop was a favourite destination for Singaporeans.

“Singaporeans make up more than half of our customers, but they cannot come here as the border between Malaysia and Singapore is still closed,” he lamented.

Lim added that the bakery started delivering to the Klang Valley using a third party in March this year as there was demand.

He said business had improved between 50% and 60% since Johor entered Phase Two of the National Recovery Plan (NRP).

“We are hoping that business will be in full swing as interstate travel is now allowed and once the border between Malaysia and Singapore reopens,” said Lim.

Sing Keng Wah Kedai Tilam co-proprietor Stanley Yeo, 39, said business was down by 80% since the start of the first MCO, but it had been slowly improving during Phase Two of the NRP.

Yeo stuffing kapok into a pillow case at his shop in Jalan Trus, Johor Baru.Yeo stuffing kapok into a pillow case at his shop in Jalan Trus, Johor Baru.

“We started receiving orders from our regular customers, including from the Johor royal household,” he said.

Yeo added that business had picked up by about 30% since the shop reopened three weeks ago.

He said apart from getting orders from walk-in customers, the shop also receives orders via Facebook for bolsters and mattresses.

“Right now, our online business caters to local customers,” said Yeo.

He noted that apart from customers from all over Johor, the shop had clients from other parts of the country as well as Australia, Japan and Singapore.

“But, our foreign customers are not able to make the trip to Malaysia because of the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on foreign travellers entering the country,’’ said Yeo.

The 82-year-old business located along Jalan Trus has been serving customers who prefer kapok-stuffed mattresses and pillows.

Kapok is a name used in English-speaking countries for both the tree (ceiba pentandra) and cotton-like fluff obtained from its pods.

The tree is cultivated for its seed fibre, particularly in South-East Asia, and is also known as Java cotton, Java kapok, silk cotton, samauma or ceiba.

Syarikat Jam & Cermin Mata International proprietor Phang Yong Siong, 60, said the impact from the Covid-19 pandemic had been the worst in his 40 years of running the business.

“Take a walk around downtown Johor Baru and you can see how bad the situation is with many businesses shuttered,’’ he said.

Phang said his business was down by 50% since the MCO was implemented again on June 1 and non-essential businesses and services were not allowed to operate for about four months.

“Business is still slow despite opening for three weeks now as people may not want to take the risk of going out as the number of Covid-19 positive cases in Johor is still high,” he said.

Phang said 90% of the shop’s business were from customers sending their watches and clocks for repairs and that 40% of its walk-in customers were Singaporeans.

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