For All And Sundry

23 March 2016

The humble kedai runcit has stood its ground despite stiff competition from supermarkets and hypermarkets. We visited surviving sundry shops in the Klang Valley to speak to its owners about what the future holds for their business.

Before the arrival of hypermarket chains and upscale supermarkets, sundry shops served as a convenient one-stop centre for many Malaysian families. Commonly found nestled within surburban areas, the kedai runcit may be humble in size, but step inside and you will find that it offers more than its size lets on.

You could say that they are the heart and soul of the neighbourhood it resides in, a place where families of all races visit to stock up on home supplies and provisions. Some sundry shops even provide fresh groceries, spices, and traditional medicine, sometimes even becoming an unlikely source for neighbourhood gossip for housewives and for children, a magical place filled with endless treasures in the form of local treats, toys and comics that are just waiting to be brought home.

It is a wonder how sundry shops still survive today when one can just find everything they need and so much more at a hypermart– and at insanely competitive prices too. In the bustling town of Subang Jaya where Syarikat Kwon Van San has served Subang residents for almost 34 years, its owner Mr. Wong is not deterred by these sprawling shopping malls and large hypermarkets. There is certainly no shortage of options in Subang Jaya, yet Mr. Wong is confident about his business. Perhaps it is because he offers more than a regular sundry shop, specialising in traditional Chinese medicine. Perhaps that is the key to survival, to continually evolve to accommodate consumer needs?

Over at Damansara Kim, Mr. Gan of Gan’s has certainly felt the impact. “It has affected my business by up to 20%,” he comments. “After all, I am only one shop against a big chain.” In the 40 years that Mr. Gan has been in business, he has slowly transformed his shop to offer more than a traditional sundry shop would by adding a commercial fridge (the kind that you would find at a supermarket) to sell fresh produce and even offering cooking gas delivery as well. With Gan’s situated within walking distance to many homes in his area, it is this convenience that has kept his business running for so many years and thankfully for the residents of Damansara Kim, there will be many more to come when Gan’s is passed on to his first and second son.

But in some areas like Bangsar where more and more neighbourhood shophouses are slowly being gentrified, it’s inevitable that these sundry shops will most likely disappear to make way for hip cafés and bars. Till that day happens, for some shop owners like Madam Lim of Kedai Runcit Chai Joon Seng on Lorong Maarof, she may have been in business for 40 years but now she’s only doing it to “pass the time.”

Nobody knows for sure what the future holds for these sundry shops, but let’s just hope that these tiny shops will continue to be the lifeline for so many families, and a source of wonder for children for years to come.

By Miranda Yeoh
Photos by Miranda Yeoh

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