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Big crowds but little business for vendors at Ramadan bazaars

They say that customers are spending less, and mostly on snacks like kuih and murtabak.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
3 minute read
Customers buy kuih from a stall at the Ramadan bazaar in Bandar Baru Ampang, Selangor.
Customers buy kuih from a stall at the Ramadan bazaar in Bandar Baru Ampang, Selangor.

Azmi and his mother-in-law, Makcik Maimon, had looked forward to setting up shop at this year's Ramadan bazaar since January. 

They spent hours discussing the menu they would offer, calculating their sales capital and looking for workers to help them at the stall.

Azmi's wife, meanwhile, was ready to handle affairs at home throughout the entire process. 

They succeeded in getting a spot at the Presint 14 bazaar in Putrajaya, and were confident in their menu of tomato rice, nasi briyani and soto, which they had sold for more than 20 years at night markets.  

But by the second day of Ramadan, their excitement had dimmed. 

"By day two of Ramadan, I was looking for someone to share the rent with me," Azmi said. 

"I've taken a lot of losses and can't afford any more. It would be better to share whatever profit I make with someone who wants to sell but couldn't get a spot." 

While Ramadan bazaars are normally a highlight of the fasting month, Azmi and his mother-in-law are making daily losses of about RM300.

Each day, they end with packets and packets of unsold food which cannot be reused the next day. 

They have resorted to donating the unsold food to those in need, or giving it to volunteers in the bazaar who deliver it to other locations. 

Throughout the Klang Valley, the normal crowds are thronging bazaars as early as 4pm. 

In Presint 14, the crowds reach a peak after the government offices close at about 4.30pm. 

In Seri Kembangan and Subang Jaya in Selangor, meanwhile, parking is a struggle.

But the vendors who spoke to MalaysiaNow said the huge crowds were not translating into high sales. 

Rahimi, who sells drinks, said many who came already had a list of what they intended to buy – mostly kuih and ready-cooked side dishes. 

She said the kuih stalls were doing a roaring trade and could close shop at 5pm, even before the breaking of fast. 

"Other vendors who sell things like murtabak, roti john and fried snacks are also doing well," she said. 

"These things are cheap and can feed a lot of people." 

But ever since the pandemic, she said, customers had not spent like they used to. 

"At most, they spend RM10 to RM20, if they come with their families," she said. 

"With a budget like that, they can get roti john or murtabak and some kuih." 

Those who came alone, meanwhile, would go for rice sets, a drink and some dessert. 

"But it's rare to see single people at bazaars," she said. "If they buy a lot, it's usually to take back and eat as a family at home." 

Azmi and his mother-in-law said the traders had been warned by the authorities not to sell their food at too high a price, so they decided to cut down their menu to just tomato rice.

At any rate, he said, it was too expensive to prepare the rest of the food, and the costs would eat into their cash flow which they need to survive the next three weeks. 

"Just some lamb can cost more than RM20 already," he said. 

"If customers want to add on some chicken, that's another RM8 to RM10, depending on size. It's too expensive. They think that it would be better to cook it themselves. 

"And I don't blame them," he added. "They're right." 

Nur Syamila, who runs a stall beside Azmi's, agreed. 

She said those who preferred to cook at home would not come looking for Menu Rahmah meals at Ramadan bazaars as they knew the cost of goods had gone up. 

"They don't ask who is selling Menu Rahmah meals because they know it's hard to get even a rice set at a low price."

She added that many traders had begun to avoid Ramadan bazaars because of the high capital needed and the cost of renting a site. 

"They prefer to open their own stall elsewhere, or take orders online," she said.