Monday, February 22, 2021

‘Pasar malam’ back with very few customers but better than nothing, say traders

Traders say business has been slow, with many barely making enough to get by.

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For night market traders who, like many other non-essential businesses, were told to remain closed throughout the movement control order (MCO) period, the green light to set up their stalls again after weeks of zero business has brought on a sense of relief which, although superficial, is better than none at all.

Many of them rely entirely on what they earn at these markets, popularly known as pasar malam, and news that they would not be allowed to operate under the reinstated MCO had hit hard.

“If we have to close completely during the MCO, it’s a gone case for us since we don’t have a monthly salary,” a trader at a night market in Petaling Jaya told MalaysiaNow.

“Our salary is based on our work.”

So when the government announced on Feb 4 that several business sectors including night markets would be allowed to resume operations, many traders breathed a sigh of relief.

This followed an earlier announcement on Jan 29 that night markets would be allowed to reopen subject to strict SOPs.

Traders had questioned the directive to shut down under the MCO, noting that morning markets were still allowed to operate despite the restrictions on movements.

Rela members at a night market in Kuala Lumpur take customers’ temperatures and spray their hands with sanitiser before allowing them to enter.

According to schedules released by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall and Petaling Jaya City Council after the first announcement, some 50 night markets in the capital and at least 20 in Petaling Jaya were allowed to open on certain days of the week from 4pm to 10pm.

Following the latest announcement, traders are hopeful that they can make back some of the income lost over the past few weeks. But many are also discovering that business is just not as good as they used to be.

The trader at the Petaling Jaya night market described his situation as manageable, adding that he is making just enough to survive.

“At least I can still look for a living and put food on the table,” he said.

“We work today and get our salary today. We get our salary today and hence, we eat today.”

He has managed to organise his stock and can get by without raising his prices just yet.

“Even if we do, it’s just a slight increase,” he added. “Business is still surviving but we’ve lost 50% of our sales.”

Across district lines in Kuala Lumpur, the story was much the same.

A trader told MalaysiaNow that his sales, too, had dropped by up to 50%.

“Even though our sector has been allowed to operate, we still can’t gather sufficient funds to make a living. No salary, no money.”

Under the most recent instalment of MCO, dubbed “MCO 2.0”, many have been holed up at home as authorities continue battling a spike in Covid-19 infections which has kept daily case numbers in the four-figure range since late last year.

“We work today and get our salary today. We get our salary today and hence, we eat today.”

Enforced on Jan 13, the movement restrictions saw only a handful of businesses such as restaurants and essential services allowed to stay open.

A trader at the Kuala Lumpur market selling fried snacks said business had been slow, so much so that he wondered if people realised that night markets were now allowed to open.

“This is still only the first week, and there are people out there who are unaware that we’re allowed to be out here,” he told MalaysiaNow.

But slow business is not the only problem for these traders, many of whom must cross district borders in order to get to work.

“Even coming to work is hard because I have to come all the way from Kuala Lumpur,” one trader said.

“There are a lot of road blocks, and it takes longer than usual to get here and go back.”

The end of the MCO, currently slated for Feb 18, may help boost business for night market traders.

Until then, though, they can only cross their fingers and hope.

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