JOHOR BARU: Malls in Johor Baru have started to come alive again with the return of Singaporean customers following the reopening of the border.

Marhayu Ismail, who sells Hari Raya cookies at a mall here, said things started to improve about three days after the border reopened.

“The mall was very quiet the past two years, even during festive seasons.

“It is such a relief to see more people coming this year.

“For now, most of our customers are still locals but at least 30% are Singaporeans,” she said here yesterday.

Marhayu added that business should improve further in the last three days before Hari Raya as patrons look for last-minute deals.

The anticipated large crowd coming from across the Causeway did not happen overnight for most places in Johor Baru after the borders reopened on April 1.

However, over the past few days, things have started to get busier with bigger crowds seen thronging malls, and heavier traffic around Johor Baru with many Singapore-registered cars spotted.

Salesperson Syuhadah Hashim, 28, said the number of visitors has also improved this year as locals now have more freedom to celebrate Hari Raya properly.

“In the past two years, we had strict standard operating procedure during festivals, including for Hari Raya.

“As such, people were not keen to buy new clothes or have grand decorations for their houses.

“This year, we get to really celebrate as the country moves towards the endemic phase.

“Many are more excited about Raya and those who can afford it are going all out to usher in the celebration,” said Syuhadah, who sells festive outfits for Hari Raya.

She added that the store also ran out of stock for some designs in the second week of Ramadan itself.

“We did not expect the border to reopen this year and thought that sales would be low like the past two years.

“The improvement took us by surprise,” she said.

At another mall here, Heng Jee Keen, 44, who owns a shop selling women’s accessories, said she received an increase of about 30% customers, mostly from Singapore.

“It is definitely still a far cry from the crowd we used to have before the pandemic, but it is so much better than in the past two months.

“There were hardly any crowds this Chinese New Year and I am very happy to see things finally improving,” she added.

Heng said it would take at least two to three months for the crowd to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“People are still a bit afraid to travel and are taking the wait-and-see approach.

“On top of that, some Singaporeans are also in the midst of renewing their passports after not being able to use it for so long,” she said.