SEBERANG PERAI, Nov 9 ― Back when old town Butterworth was a bustling economic hub with its many eateries, hotels, hair salons and other retailers, the industry that stood out the most was the scrap metal and auto parts one.
Scattered along Jalan Kampung Gajah are at least a dozen scrap metal and auto parts shops.
These businesses ― cluttered, stuffy and often grimy with clumps of metal and odd barely recognisable auto parts strewn all over half open-air spaces behind tall zinc fences ― have survived through the bad and good times till today.
Auto parts hub
Some may have changed hands over the years as the original owners either died or went back to India but due to the number of shops that still exist today, old town Butterworth has earned a name as an “auto parts or scrap metal hub.”
An auto parts shop should not be confused as a scrap metal shop though as these are two different kinds of businesses.
One auto parts shop, MK Palusamy Auto Parts Sdn Bhd, imports and exports engine parts and vehicle components for all types of vehicles from cars to lorries.
A worker at the shop said the owner, who was away on business when we visited, started the business back in the early 1970s and imported most of the vehicle parts from various countries.
The shop, which is just an open space fenced up by zinc sheets and partially shaded by more zinc sheets, is but one of many other auto parts shops along the road.
Inside, vehicle engine parts are arranged in rows on the floor under the zinc roof while more parts hang down in rows from the rafters.
More parts are stacked against the zinc walls, forming mounts of different shapes and sizes and on one side, vehicle doors of all shapes, sizes and colours are arranged side by side on giant shelves like a library of doors.
“Our customers can be vehicle workshops or individual vehicle owners looking for certain parts,” said the worker.
Though they used to import and export their parts, they don’t do this as much anymore due to increasing costs.
Most parts are now sourced locally and sold to local workshops and individuals, he said.
“We are different from the scrap metal shops here because we only sell auto parts and they sell metal scraps for industrial use,” he stressed.
Scrap metal hub
Several shops down the road is Ganesan Kanthan Hardware Sdn Bhd, a scrap metal shop that sells bush pipes, seamless pipes, scrap iron and hardware materials.
AV Letchumanan, who arrived in then Malaya back in 1949, started the business with a few partners back in 1968.
“My shop was the first to import bush pipes and hardware materials from the UK, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong and India at that time,” the 77-year-old said.
Each year, his shop would import numerous containers of the materials to supply local foundries and factories that needed these materials for their machineries and products.
Today, he has handed over the business to his son VL Kanthan who said they mostly get materials from local sources now.
“We don’t import as much anymore and we supply mostly to companies in Kuala Lumpur and other states,” he said.
Inside his shop, the items stacked everywhere are vastly different from those in the auto parts shop.
Instead of odd metal lumps and engine parts, huge pipes of all sizes are stacked alongside mountains of rods and sheets of iron.
Strewn across the grimy dirt floor are flat iron parts of all shapes that formed a unique arrangement, much like floor tiles.
Though business is still good, Letchumanan said it is not as good as it was years ago.
“Costs have gone up and it is now harder to get good workers, very few people want to work in such harsh conditions,” he lamented.
Jalan Kampung Gajah has the most concentration of both scrap metal and auto parts shops but there are also similar shops along Jalan Siram, just off Jalan Raja Uda.
One of them is Shiv Shakti Hardware that specialises in scrap metal and hardware products.
Its owner, T. Thulasitasan, said they are relatively new ― about 10 years in the area ― but believes the area is the best place for such a business.
“We supply to local foundries and machine shops and we also provide cutting service for hardware materials as there is a market for this here,” he said.
Old town Butterworth is now undergoing urban regeneration through a joint effort by Think City and Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP).
Plans are underway to rejuvenate the old town and bring life back to the former government administrative centre.
Businesses such as these auto parts and scrap metal shops will stand to benefit from the programme as it will bring much-needed traffic and economic activity back to the area.
* Think City is undertaking urban regeneration programmes for George Town, Kuala Lumpur and Johor. Find out more about Think City and its projects at thinkcity.com.my.