Shops in Klang Valley neighbourhoods struggle, wary of reopening because of Covid-19 variants

A general view of shoplots in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021. ― Pictures by Hari Anggara
A general view of shoplots in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021. ― Pictures by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 3 ― Over the past few months, as eateries in the Klang Valley struggle to survive without dine-in customers, owners often wondered aloud when dine-ins would finally be allowed.

That time may come soon following Prime Minister Satuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s suggestion that Klang Valley can move into Phase Two of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) since 90 per cent of the population have been vaccinated.

Yet, a new fear has surfaced as Covid-19 variants like Delta have contributed to a continued rise in cases: how safe is it to reopen to customers?

Some of these eateries fear they are facing a lose-lose situation: continued economic hardship with no dine-ins or exposure to infection if they reopen.

A patron orders a beverage at Coffea Coffee in Taman Danau Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021.
A patron orders a beverage at Coffea Coffee in Taman Danau Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021.

Raj, a supervisor at Coffea Coffee HQ in Taman Danau Desa, a leafy middle-class neighbourhood close off Old Klang Road, said using delivery services is one of the stupidest ideas for a businessman.

“Looking forward to it as using delivery services costs an arm and a leg, but will people come?

“As it is, people are sceptical about going out seeing daily cases are so high, so when they ease restrictions I doubt the effects will be seen immediately. It will depend on the area.

“If the place hasn’t had any sort of lockdown then maybe people will come out, however if there were a lot of cases and many people in the neighbourhood know about it then I think we’re still in the same position,” he said.

Raj lamented the exorbitant delivery fees they have to endure during the movement control order (MCO) explaining to Malay Mail that they make RM1 from a RM12 cup of coffee but the amount of work gone into making one cup of coffee for that margin is not worth the trouble.

Raj said they can only hire two to three people now as hardly anyone comes into the cafe. After all, a cafe is where you come and sit and have a meal in a nice setting.

At the time of our visit, there were no cakes in the entire display cabinet, no smell of coffee in the air and not a soul in sight apart from us.

Vegipai in Taman Desa is a desolute sight with barely a customer in sight August 11, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Vegipai in Taman Desa is a desolute sight with barely a customer in sight August 11, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

Vegipai, a vegetarian restaurant nearby that is usually packed in the afternoons and evenings, was just as quiet.

One of their staff said being fully vaccinated doesn’t mean a thing when you can still be infected by the Delta variant.

“Right now, we can’t vaccinate the kids yet, right? So if I have an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old at home, what do I do? Leave the small fella at home and two of us go out?” he said, referring to the SOP relaxations already in place in Phase Two states where those who are fully vaccinated can dine in.

“Then just say we ask to see the MySejahtera update to ascertain whether or not you’ve been vaccinated. This to make sure we mitigate our safety.

“But some people will definitely abuse this to move around by taking their friend/mother/ father/sister or colleague’s phone and use to masuk wherever they’re not allowed to.

“Then over and above we have the delivery people coming in and out and this is why I’m wondering do I even want to allow people in.”

Sim Ming Zhen is seen at work at a bakery in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021.
Sim Ming Zhen is seen at work at a bakery in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021.

Another shop in the same neighbourhood — Lavince Bakery and Pastry — reported that business had dropped but outside orders and takeaways were helping.

Sim Ming Zhen, 19, has been helping his mother run the bakery and said, “Thankfully we’re doing OK but if they ease restrictions I tend to benefit as hopefully more will come out and buy our items.

“Now we’re relying on regulars and it’s slow but steady. However we are a tapau joint. People come and choose what they want then go. So walkers, passers-by and visitors around the area are crucial for business hence this news is good,” he said.

Over the last year, many eateries in Taman Desa and the adjacent Taman Danau Desa have shuttered. Like every other neighbourhood, many Covid-19 cases have been detected here; from apartment complexes to a popular supermarket.

This has caused a shortage of workers which in turn affects business owners like Roslan Che Haat.

“If they ease restrictions then I hope the offices here return to business and their staff return to work. My shop hardly has any dine-in space. We rely more on the traffic of people around the area.

“It may help my friends who own the night stalls. Their business is almost non-existent.

“Who wants to go out and tapau at night now? Not many, most are at home and don’t want to run afoul of the authorities,” said Roslan who has been operating his stall Maksu Paksu cafe in the neighbourhood for 30 years.

Roslan Che Haat speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at his mixed rice stall in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021.
Roslan Che Haat speaks to Malay Mail during an interview at his mixed rice stall in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021.

Roslan has lost around 30 per cent of business since MCO. He said if the MCO prolongs he faces difficulty making ends meet.

Meanwhile, for Chinese restaurant Wong Seng, they may close soon according to the person who identified himself to Malay Mail as Wong.

He said he still did not want to use delivery services and did not offer individual meals, something they had been practising pre-Covid-19.

Wong said they are surviving on their regulars with not many new customers. While this move may seem foolhardy to many, Wong said he was ok with it. However when asked how long he can last if the MCO is prolonged, he said: “Close shop I guess. What else to do?”

“I’ve lost count how many days we opened this year and we are going day by day. Follow what they (government) say.”

Chinese restaurant Wong Seng is barely keeping its head above water in Taman Danau Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021.
Chinese restaurant Wong Seng is barely keeping its head above water in Taman Danau Desa, Kuala Lumpur August 11, 2021.

Last week, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari said the state is ready to transition to Phase Two in September.

He cited data from the National Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force and MySejahtera showing that 98 per cent of those registered for vaccination have received the first dose.

Kota Damansara resident, Raoff, who operates a restaurant selling Kelantanese food, said his business is surviving thanks to his regulars.

“At one point, sales even went down by 70 per cent, when MCO 1.0 was announced last year. People were really vigilant back then. 

“Now we are doing fairly better, with sales down about 40 to 50 per cent compared to last year. It's not a good improvement but at least it helps to cover cost and wages. We are still here ultimately thanks to our regulars.”

When asked about the recent relaxation of restrictions for dine-in, Raoff expressed gratitude however explained that customers are still opting for takeaway.

“With cases still high in Selangor, customers are still cautious about eating out properly. While my restaurant's employees are fully vaccinated and we open for dine-in, my customers still prefer takeaway,” he told Malay Mail.

Ahmad Fauzi owns and operates a neighbourhood gym in Kota Damansara facing a different set of problems due to the concerning Covid-19 situation.

Fauzi has been operating a pop-up satay stall for the past four months to support himself since sports and recreational centres are not allowed to operate.

He is still looking forward to reopening his gym safely despite concerns of a more aggressive Covid-19 variant that is already strongly embedded in the community.

“There is genuine concern on how we could reopen our gyms while ensuring the adequate safety of our patrons.

“Among the things that I think should be set as the safety standard is that only those who are fully vaccinated and can properly comply with the SOPs would be allowed in.

A row of shops along Taman Desa.
A row of shops along Taman Desa.

“They also need to show their MySejahtera status and vaccination certificate to be allowed for entry. There is always a risk but this way, it is properly mitigated,” he said.

While the pop-up is able to support him and two gym employees, Fauzi is concerned that the prolonged lockdown would result in the permanent closure of his gym.

“The pop-up is only meant as a stop-gap measure while all these restrictions are in place. It does help financially but just barely for me to pay for expenses, including being able to pay my employees who are also working at the pop-up stall.”

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