Slow days even before pandemic


Mohamad says after prices went up with the GST implementation, his customers started buying fewer books.

SINCE the shop opened at 10am, only two people have walked in, looking for something to buy.

One was a regular customer, while the other was someone who was merely there to kill time.

It was already past noon, and for Mohamad Baharudin, 67, the owner of Pustaka Buku Pertama, this has been a regular occurrence despite borders having reopened on April 1.

ALSO READ: Retailers cautiously optimistic despite crowds at malls

The bookstore in Pertama Complex in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur, has been around for 40 years.

Pertama Complex’s food court and eateries contribute to the higher footfall there these days. — Photos: CHAN TAK KONG and LOW LAY PHON/The StarPertama Complex’s food court and eateries contribute to the higher footfall there these days. — Photos: CHAN TAK KONG and LOW LAY PHON/The Star

“It’s been slow, but then again, things have been that way since 2015 when the goods and service tax (GST) was introduced to replace the sales and service tax,” he said.

“Although GST for books was eventually abolished, we still suffered as the prices for other things went up and our customers started cutting down on their expenses,” Mohamad recalled.

His regular customers who used to buy 10 books at a time, reduced their purchases to two, he said.

As many magazine companies closed down, the shop’s regular magazine readers stopped coming too.

“It seemed like people just stopped reading,” he added.

Covid-19 pandemic movement restrictions over the past two years pushed older shopping centres into a sorry state – a far cry from when they first opened their doors.

“The movement control order period was the worst time in our lives,” said Mohamad.

Pertama Complex opened in 1976 while Campbell Complex, which is across the street at Jalan Dang Wangi, was completed in 1973.

Three years after its opening, Campbell Complex caught fire on April 8 and had to be closed down for massive repairs.

Mohamad said that when Campbell Complex was being repaired, many retailers moved to Pertama.

‘The place was bustling and people came into my shop non-stop. We were so busy and the place was crowded all the time,” he recalled.

Maniam says the implementation of the RM1,500 minimum wage has made things worse for his struggling business.Maniam says the implementation of the RM1,500 minimum wage has made things worse for his struggling business.

Now, after almost 50 years, he said although business was not like that anymore, more people did start visiting the complex when the management started bringing in mobile phone merchants.

Also recalling the glory days was Maniam Thoraikannu, 68, who owns a trophy shop called American Trophies Sports House at Pertama Complex.

“I rented the shop in the early 1970s, and later bought the unit. It was the best of times.

“Demand for trophies and souvenirs were high and we were the best in the business,” he said.

However, business took a dip in 2015 and the shop had been struggling since.

“It’s been one thing after another. The recent announcement of the RM1,500 minimum wage has made things worse.

“We have been here for 40 years.

“We will hang on for as long as we can,” said Maniam.

The shopowners said the shortage of workers and the government’s move to increase minimum wage by 25% from RM1,200 to RM1,500 had caused their business to suffer.

Lim (right) says tailors are hoping business will pick up now that borders have reopened.Lim (right) says tailors are hoping business will pick up now that borders have reopened.

Lim Sai Nee, 62, used to work as a supervisor at the video games arcade in Pertama Complex in 1978. When the shop closed, her boss rented out the premises to tailors.

“He allowed me to stay on to keep an eye on things and the tailoring business here was good right up until the movement control order was implemented,” she said, adding that now that borders had reopened, the tailors hoped for business to pick up soon.

Just like Pertama Book Store, Pusat Jam Pertama – a shop selling watches and sunglasses – has been surviving on the goodwill of its regular customers.

Chaw says 60% of his customers are regulars who come to service or repair their watches.Chaw says 60% of his customers are regulars who come to service or repair their watches.

“Some 60% of our customers are regulars who come to service or repair their watches,” said owner Desmond Chaw.

“We have been here for 33 years, so our reputation speaks for itself,” he added.

The shopowners at Pertama Complex acknowledged that the mall’s current mix of businesses made it still relevant.

Of late, old businesses have given way to modern mobile phone shops while the mall’s food court and eateries draw in the lunch and tea-time crowds from nearby offices.

At Campbell Complex, business is slow with a number of shops still closed while some have gone out of business.

One particular shop, however, is still going strong, even after over 30 years in business.

Ho relies on his regular customers to sustain his business.Ho relies on his regular customers to sustain his business.

Campbell Optometrist owner Ho Hon Seng, 71, relies on his regular customers to sustain his business.

“Young people won’t come here because there is nothing for them here. The newer malls have so many things under one roof,” he said.

However, De Muz Collection which is well-known for its designer fashion gowns, and vintage shoe outlet Vo Tops Leather are still going strong at the complex.

“We have a regular clientele, but it would be nice to see young and new faces here,” said Mohamad Musullini, owner of De Muz Collection.

Mohamad says Campbell Complex management needs to promote the place to bring more customers to the premises.Mohamad says Campbell Complex management needs to promote the place to bring more customers to the premises.

“The management has to promote the complex, and perhaps open a food court,” he said, pointing out that there were no eateries in the building.

Good news for the business proprietors at Campbell Complex though – things are about to change.

Shapadu Grand Campbell Sdn Bhd senior manager Razali Yahaya said the complex’s office tower, retail space and hotel would be undergoing improvements to make Campbell Complex more appealing to the younger market.

“Our hotel, opened seven years ago, starts from the 13th floor up to the 19th floor. We have plans to turn this into a wedding venue where people can host their weddings and have guests stay at the hotel for the after-party.

At Campbell Complex, a fair number of shop lots are shuttered these days.At Campbell Complex, a fair number of shop lots are shuttered these days.

“We also have plans to rent out shop units to wedding planners, wedding gown experts and restaurants to turn this into a one-stop wedding centre,” he added.

The management also intends to rent out the building’s rooftop space, on the 20th floor, to concert organisers.

“We had a concert last month featuring the rock group Search and it did very well,” Razali said, adding that more are in the pipeline.

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