JOHOR BAHRU: Food eateries in Johor Bahru that usually see many customers from across the causeway are reeling from a sharp decline in sales, amid fears over the COVID-19 outbreak.
Restaurants and outlets interviewed by CNA said that the steep drop in business has been evident since Chinese New Year, when Johor reported its first confirmed case of the virus.
Among the affected businesses is Hiap Joo Bakery & Biscuit Factory, known for its banana cakes. The bakery typically attracts a line of customers outside its doors near Jalan Dhoby.
Following the outbreak, sales has dipped by at least 50 per cent, said Mr Lim Toh Shin who runs the bakery’s operations.
“There is usually a long queue for our cakes at 11am every day, but these days, the line will only last for five minutes,” said Mr Lim.
“We now have excess cakes and are unable to sell all that we bake for the day,” he added.
"VIRTUAL GHOST TOWN"
Mr Lim estimates that Singaporeans typically make up more than half of his total customer base, and the sharp decline recently can be attributed to fewer Singapore visitors.
“It’s clear because there are markedly fewer visitors on weekends, when most of our customers from Singapore usually come and buy,” he said.
Meanwhile along the same street, Mr Rahim Khan, operator of Salahuddin Bakery echoed similar sentiments.
Salahuddin Bakery sells freshly baked curry puffs and French loaves. Mr Khan said that business has slowed down by 40 to 50 per cent recently.
He attributed the fall in sales to people's fear that they might catch the virus if they travel.
“I can understand the fear. Some of my regular customers from Singapore called and apologised that they are unable to come, but I understand. It would not be worth the journey if they become sick,” he added.
Both bakeries are located near Jalan Dhoby in downtown Johor Bahru. The area is well known for its hipster cafes, traditional Chinese restaurants and classic bakeries. It is a hotspot for Singaporean visitors.
But recently, the place has become a “virtual ghost town” said Mr Khan.
He added: “The virus is definitely to blame. But also, we are suffering now because there has been some construction work to widen pedestrian walkways. This makes it hard for our customers to park”.
There have been 22 cases of COVID-19 in Malaysia, with 17 people discharged so far.
LESS CAUSEWAY CONGESTION
According to media reports, there has been less congestion at the Causeway over the past few weeks.
On Thursday (Feb 20) evening, the journey from Woodlands Checkpoint to Johor Bahru via the Causeway took around 20 mins, based on what CNA experienced. This peak hour commute usually takes around one to three hours.
The “Beat the Jam!” app, which charts travel duration at the Causeway and Second Link throughout the day, has noted a sharp decrease in movement from Singapore to Johor Bahru, even on weekends.
Mr Mohd Taufik Mohd Jamal, a Johorean who travels to and fro Singapore for work six times a week, told CNA that the lack of congestion at the Causeway has been a “pleasant surprise”.
“In my 10 years of travelling back and forth, I’ve never experienced weeks like this where the travel times are less than half an hour,” said the 45-year-old who works in construction.
Despite that, he expressed hope that things will go back to normal.
“Many businesses in Johor, including the F&B businesses, are suffering because of the virus. It’s not a healthy situation for Malaysians,” added Mr Mohd Taufik.
Over at Pandan Wholesale Market, a popular area for Singaporeans to do their groceries and have their meals, the footfall was very low.
The food courts at the market, popular for Indonesian, Thai and Pakistani cuisine, were empty during dinner time.
When a stray customer walked by, vendors would approach them and hurriedly hand out their menus.
Ms Dewi Rudyman, who operates an Indonesian stall, said revenue has dipped by 70 per cent since Chinese New Year.
“Pandan wholesale market is a bit narrow, and shoppers are forced to walk close to one another,” she said.
“I heard from my customers claiming it’s not safe to visit now because you never know if there will be a spread of the (coronavirus). So far, there has been no case reported from here though.”
NO MOOD FOR SEAFOOD
Seafood restaurants in Johor Bahru are also reporting slow sales.
A chain of Chinese seafood restaurants at Kampung Telok Jawa, which is popular among Singaporeans, have all seen fewer customers over the last three weeks.
A staff member from Todak Restaurant, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim, told CNA that some regular customers from Singapore “have no mood” to eat a luxury seafood meal amid the spread of COVID-19.
“I think customers are scared of getting infected. Maybe the whole mood to sit down and enjoy is not the best right now,” he added.
The restaurant is popular for its fresh fish, butter squid and salted egg crab. Usually, customers have to wait in line before they are even seated. However, the outlet was only half full when CNA visited on Thursday evening.
Mr Wilson Tay, a Johorean customer at Todak Restaurant said he is enjoying the smaller crowd while it lasts.
“There’s no need to queue and it takes a shorter time to process orders. It’s not a bad time to visit,” he said.