JOHOR BARU: Shops that were still closed at the start of the year are back in business as the city comes alive again following the reopening of the border with Singapore.

U. Ramesh, 39, who works at a barber shop at Jalan Bukit Chagar here, said the two rows of shops in the area were closed for almost two years due to the closure of the border during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There was no point for us to keep the shops open as people rarely dropped by this area during the pandemic. This place was extremely quiet in the past two years, a huge contrast compared to the pre-pandemic Johor Baru we knew.

“It is only after the border reopened on April 1 that we see the shops here opening up one by one,” he told The Star.

Ramesh, who has been working at the shop for over 10 years, said he took up several odd jobs over the past two years to make a living.

“This shop stopped operating about a week after the border closed, and remained that way for about two years. In that time, I worked for other shops and businesses that needed extra hands. I did any work I could, from being a security officer to a kitchen helper.

“Now that the shop here is operating, I can finally have a stable income and no longer have to look out for other part-time jobs to survive,” he said.

Meanwhile, M. Gopi, 31, who manages a car wash next door, said his shop was closed for about a year.

“We kept the car wash open for a few months in the past two years, but business was very bad. We were only getting about 20 vehicles a day, compared to over 200 cars daily before the pandemic.

“As such, we later decided to temporarily shut down, and only restart once the border reopened,” he said, adding that a majority of his customers were from Singapore.

He added that the car wash now receives between 80 and 120 customers a day.

“However, we have yet to open for 24 hours like we used to. It will take some time for us to finally make such a move. For now, we are operating from 8am until 8pm or later if there are a lot of customers waiting,” he said.

Saiful Abdul Jalil, 43, who works at a money changer at the Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Building, said that the shop had been operating since mid-April.

“We have eight branches altogether, and two, including the one here, were closed for more than two years. We only started opening them up again two weeks after the border reopened.

“Business was initially slow when we reopened but it has improved over time,” he said, adding that apart from Singaporeans, they also also receive customers from Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, and the Middle East.

Restaurant owner Tan Kim Hock, 59, said that he had extended his operating hours back to pre-pandemic times about a month ago.

“My shop used to open from 10am to 10pm before the pandemic. But during the past two years, I closed the restaurant at 3pm.

“Now that business has improved, I have decided to go back to my old operating hours and hope that things will continue to get better,” he said.