Covid-19 or Not, Life Continues for These Heritage Traders

1. Ng Kee Cake Shop (1900s)

AT 120 YEARS old, Ng Kee Cake Shop is one of the oldest traditional Chinese bakeries in George Town. Its decadent bakes include kaya puffs, tao sar pneah (salted bean cake) and coconut tarts, which are also served as offerings during major Chinese Lunar holidays, like the Ching Ming and Hungry Ghost Festivals.

Operated by fourth generation proprietress Esther Loh, the establishment has begun receiving orders for wedding ceremonies – many couples are opting to wed as soon as possible to avoid yet another partial lockdown.

Loh is looking to promote the cake shop’s brand and business online, while learning baking skills from her father, Loh Mun Loong.

2. Leong Bicycle Shop (1960s)

LEONG BICYCYLE SHOP made the transition from being a bicycle provider and repair shop to a bike rental business following George Town’s inscription as a World Heritage Site 12 years ago. The business switch makes sense since bicycles provide for a convenient mode of transport for visitors wanting to take in more of the city.

According to second generation owner Tan Teik Leong, prior to the MCO, all bicycles would have been rented out before 8am. Now however, his customers are mainly visitors from neighbouring states. Like most tourism players, Tan was earnestly looking forward to the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign, but he concedes that the presence of domestic visitors in Penang has kept business afloat.

Before, customers would have been allowed to select their preferred bicycles, but with SOP measures in effect, the choice is now limited to those displayed along the shop’s front. Though face masks are provided, and temperature checks are conducted and recorded, Tan worries that there is no way to track his customers’ whereabouts or who they come into contact with.

3. Kedai Songkok OSM Mohd Shariff (1933)

A SOUTH INDIAN native, Haja Mohideen bin OSM Mohd Shariff, 72, joined his father in Penang during the 1950s, where his father had previously established the family songkok business. Orders would come in from all over Malaysia, and especially during the month of Ramadan. To fulfill them, both father and son would sew and stitch for about 18-20 hours daily, aided by four workers.

Apart from the songkok, they also made tarbus which are used for Boria performances and Pakistani Jinnah caps that are usually worn by Northern Indians. Since taking over the business in 1973, Haja Mohideen says that 2020 was the first time he experienced a profit loss of 70%. No doubt, it is a severe blow to business, but Haja remains optimistic. As a Living Heritage Treasures Award winner, he receives recognition for his craft and a subsidy from the Penang Heritage Trust, the award’s organiser.

Regular customers from KL and Johor are still placing songkok orders through phone calls. As long as accurate head size measurements can be provided, Haja is able to get the songkok ready and shipped off. His son-in-law, who is his successor, is also mulling over the idea of creating a video to teach people how to measure their head circumference. This may help to reduce direct contact with customers, as well as to expand their platform online.

4. I.Q. - Nor (M) Sdn Bhd (1918)

I.Q. - NOR (M) Sdn Bhd is the oldest mutton shop in George Town. Sarbunnisah Nisah, 54, is a third generation butcher, but she did not inherit the business directly from her father, who alongside her uncle, elder brother and husband, had kept the business going. It was only after her husband’s retirement that she decided to take over the business herself.

In the past, restaurants relied on butcher shops to process the mutton. These days however, F&B eateries prefer to do this themselves, leading Sarbunnisah to pivot her business to those who are willing to spend good money on quality mutton instead.

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