The Jakarta Post
Beauty avengers: Attendants of a retail beauty shop wear face masks and shields while waiting for customers in Pondok Indah Mall on June 15. (JP/Arief Suhardiman)
The rising number of COVID-19 cases has forced businesses to keep their guard up.
At Ruang Selatan, a narrow path lined with green shrubs and nonornamental plants lead customers to a spacious restaurant on one side and a multifunction room on the other.
Situated in the busy district of Kemang, South Jakarta, Ruang Selatan is a meeting point for artists, filmmakers and women activists who wish to exhibit their work or hold public events.
Keep your distance: Two customers practice physical distancing during the reopening of Ruang Selatan in Kemang, South Jakarta. (Instagram.com/ruangselatan/-)
It is also a haven for vegans and vegetarians and those with healthy living in mind because the restaurant also prepared food and beverages containing ingredients freshly picked from its surrounding garden.
After four months of closing its doors to customers, Ruang Selatan reopened on July 5 but with some changes necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The owner, singer-songwriter Kartika Jahja, said the pandemic had reduced the venue’s income by up to 75 percent as the kitchen was open for deliveries only.
“Sales were down because the online market is already saturated with people selling food as well,” she said in an interview with The Jakarta Post.
“Despite all that, we kept all our workers even though we could only pay fringe benefits or enough to cover their bare expenses.”
The reopening of Ruang Selatan was limited to its restaurant and at only half capacity. Kartika removed the indoor tables that could seat more than two diners “to discourage people from coming in large groups”.
While it has mandated noncash transactions and applied health safety measures, budget restrictions did not allow Ruang Selatan to install no-touch technology to protect both workers and customers.
“We decided to delay reopening as people were still afraid to eat out and the infection curve had yet to flatten. We will open the other room only when people are already comfortable with common activities,” Kartika said.
“We will evaluate how things are going at the end of this month and in the worst-case scenario, we have to be ready to temporarily close again.”
The Jakarta administration has been easing social and physical restrictions for businesses in separate phases since early June. The first to open were standalone shops and restaurants, followed by shopping malls.
A cluster of restaurants and retail stores in South Jakarta called M Bloc Space, which opened in September last year, had to delay reopening for nearly two weeks as the community space was categorized as a shopping mall.
M Bloc Space. (Shutterstock/wiyonoprojo)
Before large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) were imposed in mid-March, the compound was a popular spot for young people with an interest in music, fashion, art and film.
The vacuum of activities did not last long, however, as M Bloc Space moved all its creative programs to the online sphere on March 30.
There have been live talk shows and digital music concerts streamed on social media as well as M Bloc Academy, paid-for classes with practitioners from various creative fields as lecturers using Zoom services.
"We actively continue our mainstay as a creative hub by holding online programs to pool ideas, inspire and to accommodate collaboration while encouraging the public to stay at home," coowner Wendi Putranto told the Post.
The rising numbers of followers on its social media accounts showed how impactful the programs were. The sponsored programs and paid classes were able to help M Bloc Space cover its expenses, including the salaries of 50 staffers and 100 outsourced workers.
"It is a hard situation for all of us, but we try our best to keep our business — and everyone in it — intact," Wendi added.
The compound reopened on June 15, but the aesthetic clinic Beyoutiful and the indoor concert hall M Bloc Live House remained closed.
With fears over customers flocking in, M Bloc Space limited the number of visitors inside its premises and required them to purchase e-vouchers before arriving. Meanwhile, small children, pregnant women and the elderly are temporarily barred from entering.
The online ticketing system, Wendi said, could help trace who visited the space and on what date.
"We take responsibility for everyone's safety. Our tenants have also made adjustments to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus by rearranging the restaurants and shops.”
As income will likely not return to “normal” in light of the prolonging health crisis, Wendi and his team have considered changing the use of M Bloc Space's concert hall, which can accommodate 500 people, and turning it into a broadcasting studio where they could produce online content or materials for TV channels — while still following health safety protocols.
“We have to be creative moving forward, putting challenges and opportunities into consideration. We can’t let the pandemic take away a community space for creative minds,” Wendi said.
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