KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 24 — The first thing you notice when you walk into the soon-to-be shuttered Ampang Park Shopping Centre here is the air of desolation that hangs over the whole place.
Most of the shops have closed and tenants moved out; there are signs shouting out “SALE” but nobody is buying.
Some shops look like they have been hurriedly vacated; the empty lots strewn with broken furniture, shelves and papers.
Some Christmas decorations could be seen in the mall and the song “Love is the Answer” streaming from the public address system the day Malay Mail visited underlined how sad the whole place felt.
The country’s first shopping mall which opened in 1973 will call it a day at the end of the month and some of the remaining shops will operate till then.
“They are making a mistake by tearing down this mall. It is all talk about development now but they will never have a mall like this again,” said Hwan Man Lee, the owner of a watch shop on the ground floor.
“I will be shifting to Avenue K nearby but it is not because I want to, but because I have to. We have been told to move out and make way.”
Hwan, 60, who has been running the shop for nearly 20 years said he would miss the simple things like parents coming to buy their children their first watch.
“For many people in KL, this was the place to be. The parents now bringing their children to shop here had first come as children when the mall was new.
“It is a sentimental place for many people. Of course I’m moving and there are other malls, but it will not be the same because of the time I have spent here and the people I have met,” he said, adding that frequent customers came by just to talk and say hello.
Another shopkeeper, Jennifer Lee, 55, who runs Haby & Wools, a craft and knitting supplies shop on the second floor expressed unhappiness at the way they were told to leave.
“It is cruel. We were told that the utilities would be turned off at midnight on Dec 31. Imagine that, while others celebrate New Year’s, it will be lights out for good here,” she said with tears welling up in her eyes.
Lee, who runs the shop with her sister Jenny, 45, said the shop had been in the family for three generations but now its future was uncertain.
“We have not received any compensation nor have we been helped with securing another shop. It really feels like we are just being thrown out.
“My great grandfather, who moved here in 1973 from Robinson’s Department store (Jalan
Mountbatten), would be heartbroken to see what has become of his shop,” she said.
While most of the shops hardly saw any customers, one shop is still doing roaring business. When lunchtime rolled around, a crowd suddenly appeared in the mall to eat at Cozy Corner.
“People love our food and we will continue to serve our valued customers till December 24, when we start to pack and move to Ampang Point,” said restaurant manager Cham Hui Ming.
“The restaurant has been around about 39 years. Of course I feel that the mall should be left as a heritage site and tourist draw but that does not matter to those who have signed away the place to be demolished,” she said.
Cham said she expected a slight downturn with the move but was optimistic about customers returning once it had been re-established.
“We have announced that we will leave and set up at a new place. I am confident that at least some of our regulars will look for us and hopefully a new crowd come in.
“It is not that we want to leave, we have to leave. And where this mall stands will be a rail line. Let’s see what people think about all this in the future, if they even care that is.”
Ampang Park Shopping Centre was considered a radical departure from traditional shoplots when it was first built; shops in the mall face inwards to an internal street, or atrium.
It paved the way for other malls in the city such as Pertama Complex in Chow Kit which opened in 1976, Sungei Wang Plaza in 1977 in the Bukit Bintang area, and Kota Raya and Sogo which opened in 1991 and 1994.
It was designed by the architect firm that designed Singapore’s People’s Park Complex, the Design Partnership Ptd Ltd, together with Kuala Lumpur-based architect Thomas A.S. Tiang.
On June 1, a Federal Court three-man panel led by Chief Justice Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif dismissed the application of the strata owners and tenants to obtain leave to appeal against the dismissal of their judicial review by the High Court and Court of Appeal.
This put an end to the legal challenge posed by 39 strata owners and tenants who had opposed the demolition of the mall to make way for the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit project.