A SHOP worker packs bridal bouquets into boxes before she carts them off along a dimly lit corridor.
Her shop is one of a few that are still open amid plenty of shuttered stores.
There were not many other signs of activity at the quiet Semua House mall in Jalan Masjid India, Kuala Lumpur, on a weekday afternoon.
This is not the scene one usually expects at a shopping complex.
It used to be bustling with shoppers looking for traditional wear, bridal items, jewellery, leather goods and trinkets.
That changed after the Covid-19 lockdowns as the movement restrictions caused foot traffic to dwindle at this 21-storey building housing retail and office spaces.
Consequently, the Semua House complex that also has a food court will close after Sept 30, sparking questions about its future.
Cleaning services worker Norhayati Kamaruddin, 60, heard that the building would be turned into a high-end shopping centre.
“This place is in dire need of a ‘glow up’.
“I have seen the purported drawing of the refurbished building and it looked beautiful.
“This was a hotspot, especially during Hari Raya Aidilfitri when people would flock here to buy festive necessities.
“The current surau needs to be upgraded as it cannot accommodate the number of people. The toilets in this complex are also frequently in disrepair,” she said.
Boutique employee Naser Mohamed, 30, said he heard that the upper floors, which currently house offices, were being converted into a hotel.
“We are unsure if the current tenants will be invited back once the renovation is completed,” he added.
Another boutique worker Liyana Jamali, 25, said her shop was in the process of moving to Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
“We were told by the complex management three months ago that we must vacate the premises by Sept 30.
“To clear out the shop faster, we are offering a 30% discount on selected items to boost our sales,” she said.
Liyana noted that the many closed shops at the mall further contributed to the drop in footfall in recent months.
“Some shops which closed during the Covid-19 lockdowns never reopened, as the tenants were unable to pay the monthly rental,” she added.
Time for change
Akoma Khatimah, 53, who has been working at the food court for nearly two decades, expressed feeling sentimental about the complex.
“This complex used to be a must-visit spot as everyone knew of Semua House and what it offered.
“The food court used to be a crowd-puller too, especially during lunchtime as it had a wide variety of menu options.
“Now, it is quite run-down and poorly lit, which is a turn-off for customers who prefer a livelier place,” she said.
Akoma is also worried about losing her job once the complex ceases operations come October.
“My boss has not confirmed if he is relocating the business, so my job future is uncertain,” she added.
Noraliza Basaruddin, who mans a kiosk in the mall, said despite its washed-out interior decor, Semua House was still preferred among the older generation.
“I met some people recently who were looking for a video store here.
“I told them that the shop no longer exists.
“My boss has said that he is considering moving back in after the renovation, but this will depend on the rental rate.
“Although the rent will likely be higher then, we see potential to make handsome profits here.
“Since the borders were reopened, more tourists from Singapore and Brunei have been flocking here,” said Noraliza, 43.
Bridal and traditional jewellery store owner William Chong, 62, welcomed the plan to renovate the complex.
“It is time for change and we must be open to progress.
“If the mall management decides to impose higher rent afterwards, it is within their rights.
“It is an open market,” he said.
Chong, who has been operating for the past 25 years, however, stressed that the complex should continue to focus exclusively on local brands.
“Traditional wear such as songket are the main draw here and this is a reflection of our culture and heritage.
“High-end brands might sell at malls such as Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and Suria KLCC but not here,” he opined.
Glory days of the past
Located near busy Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Semua House had all the ingredients for vibrant business.
Its proximity to other hotspots such as Wisma Yakin, Campbell Complex, Sogo shopping centre and Pertama Complex further enhanced its attractiveness.
This was also where Habib, a premier jewellery brand, set up its first showroom in Kuala Lumpur after a successful stint in Penang.
Every Saturday, a big crowd would flock to the area as this was when the adjacent Lorong Tuanku Abdul Rahman was closed for a night market.
Opened since Nov 11, 1986, Semua House went through two major facelifts – in 1995 and 2004, according to Semua Properties Sdn Bhd managing director Andrew Tan.
At present, the complex houses 40 retail lots and 20 kiosks on B2, B1, ground floor and first floor.
Tan confirmed that plans were in the pipeline to renovate the retail area, with a target of completion by the third quarter of next year.
“We have been talking about renovation for five years but the pandemic happened and we were forced to hit the pause button.
“Semua House has had a good run but it has become outdated compared to newer malls.
“It has a loyal customer base among older folk only,” he noted.
With the renovation, he said an open space would be created to attract younger shoppers too.
“We are looking at diversifying activities inside the mall to include cultural shows and art exhibitions,” he added.
Asked if Semua House would feature international luxury brands after the renovation, Tan said this was never part of the strategy.
“We aim to remain as local as possible to reflect the image this area is known for,” he stressed.
On plans for the upper floors, he said several options were being considered, like turning them into hotels or serviced apartments.
“We are meeting with industry players to discuss some proposals but nothing has been confirmed yet.
“For now, our focus is on the retail space,” he reiterated.