KL's Chinatown: Generations-old family businesses brave losses and dwindling customers, pivot to online delivery (VIDEO)

Published date29 June 2021
Publication titleMalay Mail Online

Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur is perhaps best known as the city's touristy Chinatown, where decades-old traditional Chinese businesses ply their trade.

Despite being strategically located and accessible through all the city's rail lines such as monorail, LRT, MRT and KTM as well as buses, the Covid-19 pandemic along with the latest lockdown has hit businesses here very hard.

During Malay Mail's visit on a weekday morning, there were perhaps not more than 20 stalls and shops open along the intersecting roads of Jalan Petaling and Jalan Hang Lekir that form Chinatown.

Coming into Jalan Petaling from under one of the iconic gates of Chinatown near the Pasar Seni MRT station, the first shop we spot is the 31-year-old Koong Woh Tong, a traditional Chinese herbal tea shop, which is open.

Next is a convenience store, and then a long lonely stretch of road with all other shops closed until the middle of Chinatown.

Here, the wet market is in operation as is the decades-old asam laksa stall at its entrance. On the right a kopitiam is open, along with a stall selling traditional snacks and the decades-old Sze Ngan Chye roast duck stall.

Madam Tang Muah Chee Queen stall selling peanut-covered mochi and Kim Soya Bean stall are also open. Two Chinese traditional medicine shops along the street are not.

Going further down Jalan Petaling, all shops and stalls are likewise closed, except for the 74-year-old Kwong Nam Hing hardware store towards the end of the street and another Koong Woh Tong outlet at the other gate entrance of Chinatown.

Walking along the stretch of Jalan Hang Lekir that is closer to the Pasar Seni LRT station, all stalls were closed including the florists and flower wholesalers.

Also noticeably closed was the Mou Tak Ding stall in the middle of Chinatown which sold air mata kucing, while other food stalls such as the famous one making apam balik were also conspicuously absent.

The other food businesses along Jalan Hang Lekir nearer to Jalan Sultan that were open included Hon Kee Porridge with FoodPanda delivery riders picking up orders, Koon Kee wantan mee stall, Ho Yoke Kee dumpling stall, and Fung Wong biscuits shop.

Some of these decades-old businesses have adopted new payment options by accepting e-wallet transactions using platforms such as GrabPay and Touch 'n Go.

In other words, only the established businesses - mostly food-related - were still in operation in Chinatown during the total lockdown. Stalls selling items such as clothes, bags, and shoes were all closed.

Malay Mail spoke to a few of these legacy businesses to see how they are surviving the economic downturn from the pandemic.

(Our visit to Chinatown was before the government's announcement that the lockdown would essentially be extended, and also before eateries were allowed to operate from 6am to 10pm.)

Kim Lian Kee

Lee Heng Chuan, the third-generation owner of 94-year-old restaurant Kim Lian Kee which is famous for its Hokkien mee, said the restaurant closed during the first lockdown last year before reopening on May 13, 2020.

He had given two weeks' worth of food supplies to his workers while his business was closed then.

Since then, his restaurant workforce was halved with some workers voluntarily resigning as they saw that business was slow and knew that the restaurant was overstaffed.

Lee said he was forced to cut the salaries of the remaining employees by half and have them work on rotation since.

The shorter opening hours during the first part of the current lockdown also hurt Kim Lian Kee's business as it was losing out on the evening crowd who would otherwise takeaway dinner after work.

With just takeaway or deliveries allowed, Lee noted that business has drastically gone down by 95 per cent.

'I'm open in the mornings and at nights too, so the impact on me is very big. So currently cannot dine-in and the hours are short, we do business not up to five per cent only, how to sustain? Compared to business previously, it is now five per cent,' he told Malay Mail, later also noting that customers now have reduced spending power.

Lee said he has been digging into his savings to operate Kim Lian Kee since MCO 1.0 but pointed out that this would eventually run out.

'Many of my friends would rather close, some of them are temporarily closed. If it is their own property it is still alright...

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