Businesses in Johor Baru carrying on despite absence of Singapore visitors due to Covid-19

Hua Mui restaurant in Johor Baru city centre. The eatery's history and popularity among the local community helped it survive difficult times.
Hua Mui restaurant in Johor Baru city centre. The eatery's history and popularity among the local community helped it survive difficult times.PHOTO: ST FILE

JOHOR BARU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Decades-old shops in the heart of Johor Baru are still in business despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to support from the locals.

The business operators said that while they had suffered losses because of the movement control order (MCO) and restrictions put in place because of the pandemic, such as the closure of the border with Singapore, many were able to weather the storm, thanks to local customers.

Mr Pang Kuok Sing, 29, a cook at Hua Mui restaurant in Johor Baru city centre, said the eatery's history and popularity among the local community had helped it survive through difficult times.

"Most of our customers are regulars. They have been coming here for years.

"Although initially affected during the MCO, business picked up with locals' support. They made up for lost customers from the other side of the Causeway.

"We have also been getting many customers from other states lately. They come here when on holiday in Johor Baru," said Mr Pang at the restaurant along Jalan Trus.

He said business has recovered by at least 70 per cent since the recovery MCO started.

"The crowd on weekends is still pretty encouraging despite the absence of visitors from other countries.

"People are still making a beeline for the shop on weekends," he said, adding that they ensured they adhered to standard operating procedures, including the use of face mask and observing physical distancing.

Mr Joseph Lim, 32, who is the third-generation owner of a bakery here popular for its banana cake, said that during the MCO, he had turned to a online platform to sustain business.


"We sold banana cakes and our other items online and this helped us to maintain high sales, with many new customers placing orders," he revealed.

He said that while the queue outside his shop might not be as long as it used to be, the amount of business was quite decent.

"We have been able to attract a good crowd made up of Malaysians. Among them are some new faces, including from other states such as Sabah and Sarawak," he said.

A second-generation owner of a warung near Jalan Mahmoodiah, Mr Ahmad Ismail, 39, said his shop used to receive customers from all over the world, including from Germany and Japan.

"When the pandemic struck, we lost business but bounced back, thanks to locals.

"Business has picked up by about 70 per cent and now we are also receiving customers from other states, including those from the Klang Valley who are on a food hunt here," said Mr Ahmad.


He said the shop, which has been around since 1936, offers customers a nostalgic feel, with photographs of old Johor adorning the premises.

"This is our way of showcasing the rich history of Johor to visitors," he said, adding that the shop was also decked out with posters of old movies.

Sisters Wong Oi Fah, 74, and Wong Oi Ling, 64, who have been selling herbal tea at a shop here for decades, said their century-old business still received customers despite the pandemic.

"As soon as we were allowed to reopen the shop during the MCO, loyal customers have been coming here to get their dose of herbal tea or to buy as takeaway.

"Although the absence of visitors from Singapore has affected us, we are able to carry on with support of local customers," they said.

Coffee shop owner Tian Tau Choo, 60, said he was able to retain about 60 per cent of his customers.

"This outlet has been around for more than five decades and those who grew up in Johor Baru come to have breakfast here.


"While we have not completely recovered in terms of business, it is still a lot better compared with the initial phase of the MCO, when there were hardly any customers," said Mr Tian.

Johor Baru Business and Hawkers Association president Roland Lim said businesses catering to locals are doing quite well amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Businesses dependent on shoppers from Singapore, such as retail outlets in shopping centres and restaurants, are facing challenging times, with some forced to close shop," he said.