We all know that Pasar Seni aka Central Market is the go-to spot for foreign tourists to get souvenirs but for Malaysians, especially KL natives, it’s part of our city’s heritage and has been a main transit point for decades. You might have caught the bus here regularly in the ’90s, maybe even been mugged here back then (Ed’s Note: true story), whatever the reason, CM has always been there.
Before the pandemic, the place was lively with buskers and cultural performances amid shops selling traditional crafts like batik, songket and portrait paintings among others.
Unfortunately, because of the deadly pandemic, Pasar Seni’s shops are struggling to keep their doors open due to a lack of visitors, but the indie-like vibe of Pasar Seni is now attracting younger people to come to not only take pictures but participate in batik painting as well as discover the shops there.
As Pasar Seni stores mostly cater for tourists, locals are less inclined to spend money and more likely visit for photo opportunities, so getting them to stay and be engaged is key.
According to Bernama, certain merchants are lucky to have loyal local customers who constantly place orders for personalised crafts such as portrait paintings.
“Because of COVID-19, people are scared to go out hence the lack of visitors to my art gallery but I still receive orders for portraits especially from usual customers,” said Baim Zakaria, owner of Baim Zakaria Art Gallery.
But most traders aren’t as lucky as Baim who can survive on his art and doesn’t need a physical location to conduct business. These traders rely on travellers coming in to browse their shops.
Speaking to Bernama, store-owner Jehan said, “The business is not like the old days anymore. For example, this week we only got RM100 which shows that the buying is decreasing. Of course the management is kind enough to decrease the rent up to 50% but if there’s no sale then it’s still a burden.”
Even though Pasar Seni has gotten more visitors now especially on the weekends, sales are still relatively low. The famous landmark is now depending on locals to keep it alive although it seems that many are just interested in a weekend getaway (yes, even if it’s in the same city).
“Taking a stroll at Pasar Seni gives you a taste of Penang Street Art. You can really feel the vibe of being a tourist. My friends and I really enjoy and appreciate the arts and crafts you get to see when you’re here,” said Farah, a local from Petaling Jaya.
Pasar Seni’s management have also pleaded with the public to support their establishment in hopes to sustain the struggling businesses.
Cheong Wai Mun, Manager of Central Market Complex Sdn Bhd said, “I am encouraging the people of Kuala Lumpur especially to come and visit the local historical arts and culture we are known for here.”