PASAR PAYANG: Customers will go to the place where they feel most comfortable
(NST) IT was a blisteringly hot afternoon when the air conditioning at my office decided to take the day off. Typing a single sentence became a big chore as the mind was overwhelmed by the heat, and sweat made my fingers clammy as they lethargically tried to dance across the keyboard, trying to form coherent sentences from incoherent thoughts.
Hot afternoons are the norm in Kuala Terengganu outside of the monsoon season, and without air-conditioning, it would be unbearable to stay indoors.
It was on such an afternoon that renowned architect and Kuala Terengganu member of parliament Raja Datuk Kamarul Bahrin Raja Ahmad convened a press conference about the “Save Pasar Payang Campaign” at the Pas office in Paya Bunga last week.
The press conference went smoothly as the Pas MP outlined the campaign to stop the redevelopment of Pasar Payang, maintaining that the 46-year-old building is an icon and a heritage of Kuala Terengganu.
As an architect, the issues of buildings are right up his alley and the planned redevelopment of Pasar Payang was Raja Bahrin’s main campaign drive during the 13th General Election.
He lambasted the state government and Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said for planning to build a new integrated complex, housing the new Pasar Payang and a five-star hotel.
Ahmad said the redevelopment plan was necessary as the current Pasar Payang building was declared unsafe by the Works Department and more hotels were needed to boost tourism.
“Visitors to Pasar Payang will then be able to shop in the comfort of the air-conditioned new building which will in turn create a better environment for businesses there,” he said.
Raja Bahrin said the new building would not only rob Kuala Terengganu of an iconic building but will also put the livelihood of the traders there in jeopardy as it was the building which attracted the visitors there.
During the school holidays last week, Pasar Payang received hordes of visitors who braved the hot afternoons and massive traffic jams to buy souvenirs and traditional Terengganu crafts.
The songket, batik and other items sold by traders and bought by visitors in Pasar Payang spoke volumes of the true branding behind the name.
The items being sold there were the real draw to Pasar Payang, not the building itself.
After all, the current building is rather new compared to the trading activities there that had been going on for generations.
Maybe the planned new building will become as iconic for Kuala Terengganu after a few decades, just like the Petronas Twin Towers had become one for Malaysia.
Browsing through the Facebook page of the campaign to save Pasar Payang, one would notice a photo of a lone sales assistant waiting for customers. The photo was captioned “Bila cuti sekolah tamat, Pasar Payang kembali lengang”, which highlighted the fact that tourists were the real force that drives trade there.
Outside the holiday seasons, only a trickling of visitors could be seen in Pasar Payang on weekdays and the crowd size only increase a bit on weekends.
However, the crowds at the air-conditioned hyper markets in town never dwindle and the fact that Giant had just opened another outlet in Gong Badak in February showed that business is booming.
If Pasar Payang could be made friendlier for the casual shopper, chances are that more people would visit the traditional crafts hotspot.
True, hypermarkets sell day-to-day items needed by everyone but if they were without air-conditioning, escalators and other modern comforts, the crowd there will surely dwindle significantly.
Looking for crafts and souvenirs are the things people do on holiday and at leisure and never will become a necessity like shopping for groceries. If the grocery shoppers can be enticed by the comfort of the hypermarkets, then there is no reason why holidaymakers cannot be attracted to come to Pasar Payang for the same reasons.
Some may balk at the idea of comparing hypermarkets with the iconic Pasar Payang, but it is the reality today that customers will go to the place where they feel most comfortable.
As for guests of the hotel that will share the same high-rise building that will house the new Pasar Payang, it will most comfortable and convenient to take the elevator down to buy the best hand-woven songket. It will beat fighting sweaty crowds just for a few trinkets.