GEORGE TOWN, Aug 2 ― After 18 months of uncertainty and spotty income, Tropical Spice Garden (TSG) in Teluk Bahang here is facing permanent closure as its funds run dry.
Owner Katharine Joan Chua said the tourism spot has had close to zero income and they have depleted most of the company’s savings since the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year.
She said she and her husband Kenneth Khoo have even dipped into their own personal savings to keep the business afloat.
“We have done what we could to cut down on our overheads, we let go three quarters of our staff last April and we now have a very small team,” she said.
Even then, if they were to close permanently, Chua said they may not even be able to pay their remaining staff termination benefits.
Most of the current staff at TSG have taken severe pay cuts since last year and are paid below minimum wage of about RM1,000 each.
Out of desperation to stay in business and to continue paying their staff, Chua posted a heartfelt plea on TSG’s social media on August 1 seeking support for their crowdfunding campaign “Join the Family, Save the Garden.”
Supporters can opt to join the TSG Spice Fam monthly membership programme or donate directly to the garden.
Chua also posted the same plea on the TSG website, explaining that they needed the funds to stay open and survive the prolonged closure.
She said TSG was only able to open to visitors for an accumulated four to five months over the last 18 months while most of the time, they had to close due to the different iterations of the movement control order (MCO).
“Even when we could open, there was a police roadblock on the way to TSG so no one came due to that,” she said.
Realising that they needed to switch the focus of TSG now to gain local support, Chua said they have restructured the business into a community project instead of being a tourist attraction.
“We are building a garden for all, for Malaysians, and building it as a community centre for all, a space for arts and culture, a space for healing,” she said.
TSG launched the Spice Fam monthly membership programme in October last year offering activities such as virtual classes and workshops, unlimited entry to the garden when it reopens, discounts at the TSG gift shop, a one-time camping pass each month and a chance to join a growing community garden.
While waiting to be allowed to reopen, Chua said they have tried to push their online classes and workshops on cooking, dancing and wellness but the response was not enough to pay the bills.
“We do have some support but it was not enough, we need a higher volume for these to be viable,” she said.
She said they were planning activities such as open mic sessions, pottery classes, children’s gardening sessions, camping and even a gathering space for cyclists for when they are allowed to reopen.
TSG is spread out over two hectares of landscaped gardens and boasts over 500 different types of plants.
Chua said they hope to raise funds through its Spice Fam programme to stay operational now and to allow them to reopen once travel restrictions are lifted.
“Your Spice Fam subscription is more than just money, it’s the garden’s lifeline to stay open,” she said.
At TSG, there are plants such as bromeliads, various types of palms, orchids, heliconias, begonias, aroids and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, clove, allspice, ginger, turmeric, cassia, galangal, fingerroot, pandan, curry leaf, asam gelugur and many more.