Old traders hit hard by heritage program
The 60-year-old Sugianto waits for his faithful customers to buy some household items from his old shop, Tanjung Raya, located on Jl. Gajah Mada, the historic business site in downtown Denpasar.
Sugianto is the second generation in his family to own this shop, and both he and the other shop tenants in the neighborhood now feel very insecure and concerned due to the local administration’s program to designate Gajah Mada as the city’s old town and a heritage site.
Sugianto and his fellow shop owners are still displaying the same products as their fathers and mothers did in years gone by.
In his Tanjung Raya shop, Sugianto sells old and antique China sets, dinner sets, kitchen items and an assortment of kitschy souvenirs and gifts, many of which are scattered all over the dusty floor.
“Most of us are just killing time by chatting with our neighbors,” Sugianto said, as only a very few people come to his old-fashioned shop.
Other shop owners too have to endure dreary business as the goods on display are no longer appealing to younger buyers.
“I have had to lay off my shopkeepers, even though they had worked for us for so many years. We could not pay their salaries anymore,” said a shop owner.
“People cannot park their vehicles here and it is difficult also for pedestrians to walk on the high sidewalk. Nobody is interested in coming here anymore,” said Sugianto helplessly.
Gajah Mada was an artery of Bali’s economy until the early 1960s, when business activities were still alive and prosperous. The line of shops sold textiles, hardware, Chinese and traditional Balinese herbal medicines and a large variety of imported electronic goods.
The shop buildings were beautiful and demonstrate a fascinating blend of Balinese and Dutch colonial architectural elements. Some stores still have artistic Art Deco windows facing the city’s big Hindu temple, Pura Desa, Pasar Kumbasari and Pasar Badung traditional markets built alongside the Tukad Badung river.
The Gajah Mada location is integrated with other remarkable historic landmarks along Puputan Badung Park, Puri Satria Royal house, Bali Museum and the old Inna Bali hotel on Jl. Veteran.
I Nyoman Darma Putra, a cultural observer, categorized Gajah Mada as both a thriving business and cultural midpoint.
In 1964, the Denpasar administration held the week-long Gajah Mada Festival, which featured multi-cultural performances, a culinary fiesta, bazaars and entertainment.
“Students, traditional village art troops, government officials, all took part in this joyous festival,” wrote Darma Putra. Hundreds of people would flock to Gajah Mada to watch all the performances and taste the delicious cuisine.
But the festival was stopped because of the social upheaval following the attempted coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party on September 30, 1965.
The 60s festival inspired the current administration to start holding a new annual Gajah Mada Town Festival, which started in 2010.
I Dewa Made Agung, head of Denpasar’s Economic Affairs Office, said Gajah Mada and its surrounding areas would be physically revitalized. “We also encourage shop owners to keep their businesses alive by catching up with the changing times. We would encourage them to sell goods that meet the demands of the younger customers,” Dewa said.
The new annual festival did indeed enliven the old part of the city. “But it was temporary. After the festival, people were still reluctant to visit Jl. Gajah Mada, which is now so unappealing to modern customers,” Dewa added.