In heart of KL, traders struggle to find way back from business wilderness of MCO

Dilla Textile Trading’s Ferawati Akhiruddin speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman May 5, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Dilla Textile Trading’s Ferawati Akhiruddin speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman May 5, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 7 — Textile traders at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and Masjid India are finding it hard to revive their businesses that have been shut for over 40 days as a result of the movement control order (MCO).

The extended duration without any sales have left them with a backlog of unpaid debt and rent arrears with which to contend.

Textile trader Ferawati Akhiruddin said she has no way of repaying the accumulated debt, and has asked her landlord for a deferral of rent owed.

“Business has been bad even before the MCO was enforced.

“We were barely making enough to cover our operational costs and now with zero sale revenue, I’m not sure of how long more I can keep my business running,” she said when met at her shop, Dilla Textile Trading, on Jalan Tuanku Rahman, also popularly known as Jalan TAR.

While a rent reduction of 50 per cent would be music to most ears, Ferawati said it made no difference as the nearly month-and-half without revenue meant she still could not pay this.

Originally, her shop’s rent was set at RM13,000 a month. This was gradually reduced to RM6,000 when the economy took a dip in 2017, Ferawati said.

“I am thankful that the landlord of this building is able to allow some of us to delay our rental payment.

“Apart from that, I was able to get a refund of stocks which I ordered earlier for Ramadan month.

“There was no way I can pay for the stocks when I didn’t make any sale since March 18,” she said.

According to Ferawati, small traders like her typically order stocks for Hari Raya way ahead of Ramadan to prepare for sales during the fasting month.

With the MCO in place, however, this meant she was holding stocks she had no way of selling during the lockdown.

While the government has allowed most businesses to resume under a conditional MCO as announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on May 1, customers simply have not returned, the trader said.

“Yesterday I only managed to sell one piece of head scarf. I’m really worried if sales were to continue at this rate,” she added.

The nationwide MCO was enforced under the advice of the Health Ministry to prevent the exponential spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) that could potentially overwhelm the country’s health system.

Crucially for Ferawati, several areas such as Masjid India and Jalan TAR had been placed under an even more restrictive version dubbed the EMCO that prohibited even activities deemed essential. These have since been lifted.

Textile giants not spared

Gulati's Silk House does not need to worry about rent as it owns its premises, said Lavlu. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Gulati's Silk House does not need to worry about rent as it owns its premises, said Lavlu. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

A worker at Gulati’s Silk House said the business at the textile boutique has suffered since the MCO was enforced earlier in March.

Unlike business in the essential services category, textile traders were not permitted to conduct physical sales.

Worker Lavlu Biswas said the fabric boutique was usually very busy during the Ramadan month as preparation for Hari Raya starts.

“Now, look at the empty street. Our shops are opened but no one dares to come out in fear of contracting the virus.

“Hopefully during the weekend people will come out,” he said.

Because Gulati’s owns its premises, Lavlu said they at least did not have to worry about rent as  this was very high in the area.

A Kamdar textile store manager on Jalan TAR also expressed similar sentiments, but said he was confident there was still time for sales to ramp up before Hari Raya when Malay Mail approached him on Monday.

“This is just the first day of us resuming business, but I am confident that we will be able to pick up sales when Hari Raya approaches.

“It’s too early to tell because the MCO has not been lifted entirely. I think once the MCO is lifted more people will come out to shop,” said the store manager who requested anonymity.

Online business not always an option

While many businesses have adapted and moved their operations online, a perfume wholesaler asserted that it would not work for those like him.

According to Abdullah Jupayel, his customers were not familiar with online sales. He also said wholesaling was not typically done online as it was costly to mail items in bulk.

“None of our customers order stocks in small quantities so it does not make sense for us to make available an option for online shopping,” he said when met at his shop at Malayan Mansion.

The Kamdar employee argued similarly, asserting that tactility was an important consideration in textile shopping that could not be replicated in an online setting.

“Especially for Hari Raya, most families want to have matching clothing and when they make choices online, many times people don’t get what they see on the website.

“As for apparel fitting, this can go wrong easily. So we can only rely on our website to promote new arrivals but for now, nothing beyond that,” he said.

‘Balik kampung’ prohibition an added blow

Mega Exclusive Wholesale’s Lydawati Nadim speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at Jalan Masjid India May 5, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Mega Exclusive Wholesale’s Lydawati Nadim speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at Jalan Masjid India May 5, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

As for Lydawati Nadim from Mega Exclusive Wholesale, she said a large portion of sales during the Ramadan month was dependent on those who were heading out of state to celebrate Hari Raya with their extended families in their hometowns.

The government has allowed inter-district travel with no time restrictions but interstate movement is limited to only work purposes and those with special dispensation from the authorities.

“A lot of our customers come here to buy from us as gifts to be distributed in their hometown.

“But since the government said no to balik kampung, there is no more hope for us to get some sales from that,” she said when met at Masjid India.

She added that even their wholesale customers were affected, especially those residing in Sabah and Sarawak.

Lydawati said they were not able to send orders to these two states since their delivery partners have still not fully resumed work.

Even those that were operating must contend with the backlog of deliveries created by limited working hours during the MCO, she said.

“There goes both our sources of revenue,” she said.

Separately, a sundry shop owner Mohmed Ismail said some of his store’s goods were destroyed by rats when the premises were closed during the MCO.

A general view of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman during the conditional movement control order (CMCO) in Kuala Lumpur May 5, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
A general view of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman during the conditional movement control order (CMCO) in Kuala Lumpur May 5, 2020. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

He claimed he had not been permitted to open during the period of lockdown.

“I didn’t even have time to clear out and now everything is destroyed.

“I already threw out three big bags of food and other items from the shop as most were damaged from rat bites,” he said when met at his shop at Masjid India.

He added that he has nowhere to turn for support as there was no financial aid for petty traders like him.

“One month’s rental here is RM5,000 but I didn’t make any sale last month.

“I really hope that the government can look into this,” he added.

The new set of regulations for CMCO was gazetted on May 3, and is in effect since May 4 lasting up to May 12.  

Under the conditional order, regulations under the 4th MCO have been revoked with several relaxation put in place.

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