KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians have, literally, reclaimed Petaling Street.
Once an iconic shopping street where tourists could get everything from knick-knacks to cheap tee-shirts with “I love Kuala Lumpur” emblazoned on the front, it was also notorious for the large number of businesses run by migrants.
After months of lockdown necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the street reopened this week with a new, but untried, concept.
It has been converted into a night market, with small businesses run entirely by young Malaysians.
“There are zero foreign workers here now,” Kuala Lumpur Hawkers and Petty Traders Association chairman Datuk Ang Say Tee boldly claimed.
“Every stall is owned and run by Malaysians,” he told theSun yesterday.
New choices apparently preferred by the younger crowd, such as bubble tea, Taiwanese mee sua (vermicelli) and Thai street food, have replaced stalls selling mostly local fare such as Hokkien mee and lo hon guo tea.
What used to make Petaling Street iconic is now out of date, according to Ang. “We now have younger people taking over so they can continue to attract the crowd and domestic tourists,” he said.
The makeover of Petaling Street, located in the centre of the city’s Chinatown, did not happen overnight.
Ang said the plan to “modernise” the shopping street was mooted nearly two years ago, but the Covid-19 pandemic just speeded things up.
“With the movement control order, there are no more foreign tourists,” he pointed out.
Rather than returning with the tried and tested, the association studied the night market concepts prevalent in Taiwan and Thailand with the sole purpose of enabling young Malaysians to start their own small businesses.
The response has been more than encouraging, according to Ang.
“Since we opened on Monday, there has been a relatively good crowd on the street, buying food and drinks,” he said.
He said many visitors have also helped to promote the new night market by posting pictures on social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
To ensure social distancing, the number of stalls have been halved from the original 700. Petty traders and hawkers are allowed to share their space as long as they abide by social distancing rules.
“There are many stalls still available. The migrants have literally deserted their stalls for fear of being caught by the authorities,” Ang said.
The market opens from 3pm to 10pm daily, and it is cleaned and sanitised regularly.