DESPITE having a clean and nice-looking place to operate from, a handful of traders at the Ocean View Food Centre in Sungai Pinang, Penang, have chosen to sell their items outside the building for the past month.
Stall operator Hassan Ariffin, 51, and his wife Noraida Ramli, 37, who sell apom, said they had to move out from the centre because of poor business.
“We moved out from the building during Ramadan to earn a little extra.
“To our surprise, while outside, we had new customers from the neighbourhood who said they never even knew the place was a food centre as it looked like a wet market from the outside.
“There was also no proper signage,” said Hassan.
The couple said there were now fewer than 10 stalls in operation inside the building, although all 24 stalls had been allotted.
“We pay the rental of RM146 per month, excluding utility bills, which is quite high.
“We can’t survive as not many people come here,” said Noraida when met at her stall recently.
A check inside the building revealed only two stalls open for business – a drinks stall and a Chinese rice stall.
The traders’ plight was highlighted by Penang DAP Action Team chief Tham Weng Fatt.
“They have been suffering poor business here for the past four years. Rental is high compared to that charged at other places.
“Including the water and electricity bills, the traders pay more than RM200 a month to operate a stall here,” he said.
Tham said the building’s design gave the impression it was only a wet market from the outside as it was originally meant as a market-cum-food centre.
“Now that it has been converted into a food centre without a market, the walls should be shorter and there should be better signage to make people aware that there are food stalls operating within,” he said.
He called on the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) not to let the place go to ruin.
He added that abandoned or near-vacant food centres could become haunts for drug addicts and “resting places” for workers.
“I used to catch MPPP enforcement officers and labourers using this place to rest up.
“I no longer see them here because they know I check on this place quite frequently now,” he said.
Tham said one way to revamp the place would be to privatise it.
He gave as an example the now successful Sri Pinang food complex just off the Jelutong Expressway which opened five months ago following privatisation, after about eight years of being left vacant.
State Local Government and Traffic Management Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow had said in July that the council was considering allowing private operators to take over its abandoned food courts in a move to rejuvenate such pre-mises and resettle illegal roadside hawkers.
When contacted, Chow said the privatisation move was being done on a case by case basis, when the private sector expressed interest in a particular centre.
“We don’t exactly have people lining up to apply. It’s not easy to run such centres. They have to first spend on upgrading the place,” he said.
Chow said the council welcomed proposals from the private sector, adding that they could contact the council’s licensing department.