Thursday, February 3, 2011

Central Market’s revamped look draws the crowd

FOR a 123-year-old building that started out as a wet market, Central Market in Kuala Lumpur still draws a steady crowd. The building is a testament that old buildings can be preserved, restored and transformed into a place that is still relevant to modern times. A visit to Central Market today is definitely a worthwhile and an enriching experience — visitors and tourists get to immerse themselves in the rich Malaysian culture and buy unique arts and crafts.

A new management in the form of Central Market Sdn Bhd (under the umbrella of the Kha Seng Group) has taken over since 2004 to rejuvenate and revive the entire building to make it more lively and exciting.

And the building has never looked better since.

Traditional crafts: The Straits Chinese street where you can find shops selling a whole lot of Chinese items.

Hordes of people can be seen streaming into Central Market these days to eat, shop, or watch free cultural performances.

Central Market assistant complex manager and senior advertising and promotion manager Mak Soon Peng said the kiosks and stalls have been upgraded and reorganised into different sections as part of a refurbishment programme.

“It’s really a different Central Market with a fresher and brighter feel, which translates into a more conducive shopping ambience for visitors as well as the traders,” Mak said to StarMetro during a recent tour of the place.

“About RM10mil was invested for the upgrading works. Our founder and group managing director Bernard Bong has this vision for Central Market, which is to make it a truly happening hub reflective of its significance as the national culture, arts and heritage centre.

Going al fresco: The Kasturi Walk project by Central Market.

“One of the most evident features you would notice are the different zones to categorise the different areas — for example, names like Lorong Melayu, Lorong Cina, Lorong India, Jonker Street and also Blue Mansion,” he said.

Lorong Melayu is to denote all things Malay sold along this lane, and so forth.

Proper signs have been put up at the start of each street with respective custom-made tiles to enhance the character of each.

Jonker Street, which is named after the famous street in Malacca, describes the Baba-Nyonya inspired architecture constructed for some of the shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs, while Blue Mansion which is named after the heritage building in Penang denotes the antique trove of treasures one could find among the shops here.

There is also a Batik Emporium with a variety of Malaysian batik prints sewn into apparel, shoes and bags available from the many shops.

Central Market complex manager Cheong Wai Mun said about 70% of the mall’s tenants were made up of old ones with balance 30% new tenants who moved in after the revamp.

Mak said the management had also gotten some of the shops to renovate in line with the new image of Central Market.

Go coconut: The lane named Lorong Kelapa which features shops selling a variety of traditional Maly snacks and goodies made from coconut.

“We actually did the revamp gradually since 2004 in different phases,” he said.

On the same level as the Batik Emporium is where one could take their pick from the wide array of food options at the Mangrove food court.

This food court and other restaurants like Ginger Restaurant and Precious Old China are a hit with the crowd.

Central Market’s emphasis on arts is evident with the dedicated building called Central Market Annexe, located behind the main building and it houses a collection of eclectic art galleries, including the Annexe Gallery.

“In the past if you can remember, the artists used to squat around on the ground to do their painting, and it was narrow with little space for people to pass through. Which is why this proper Annexe space was created for them,” said Cheong.

The Annexe Gallery arts programme director Pang Khee Teik said the place has become somewhat popular with young people and was where one could see the ‘democratising’ of arts.

Poised at work: Portrait artists now get to showcase their talent at the Central Market Annexe.

“We hold experimental art exhibitions, theatres, forums and dance performances; we’re multi-disciplinary and flexible.

“As the arts community become more interested in social issues like orang asli and refugees, we have become a platform where marginalised groups feel empowered and offer people with different perspective of viewpoints. The place where people come to agree to disagree,” said Pang, adding the gallery opened in 2007.

He said Central Market was now an interesting, straight-forward hub offering a dose of Malaysian culture.

Next to the building is a pedestrian walkway known as Lorong Kasturi, which will be converted into a covered mall called Kasturi Walk with about 55 retail and F&B kiosks alfresco style.

It is currently still under construction with a large ‘Wau’ design and to be officially launched on Feb 19.

What a long way Central Market has come since its history dating back to 1888, and by the 1930s, the structure was improvised to sport the current Art Deco facade we see today.

And to think that Central Market was almost demolished towards the end of 1970s if not for the Malaysian Heritage Society which fought to preserve it.

*Taken from The Star Online

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