Round 2 hits just as hard

Round 2 hits just as hard

Service sector still ill-equipped as latest round of closures and restrictions kick in

The normally bustling entertainment strip at Patpong has gone eerily quiet as Covid-19 restrictive measures took effect last month. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
The normally bustling entertainment strip at Patpong has gone eerily quiet as Covid-19 restrictive measures took effect last month. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

This is the second time businesses have been hit by coronavirus-related restrictions and closures, and many firms are finding it hard to stay afloat.

Chayanggurn Ardam, 54, the owner of Telephone Bar in Silom Soi 4, said he has now reached breaking point. His bar was heavily affected by the "service venue" ban in the first round during which he estimates he lost 90% of his customers, nearly all of whom were foreigners.

"When the border closed, everything started to collapse," he said.

A shareholder of this 34-year-old bar decided not to carry on, which left him in a vulnerable position.

"He had already lost 20 million on this place so I can understand his decision."

Mr Chayanggurn also took an unusual step, in that he he asked the shareholders to lay him off so he could claim Social Welfare payments to feed his family.

"I almost have no money left in my bank account," he told the Bangkok Post.

To prevent widespread contagion, "service venues", which included all the area's well-known pubs, bars, nightclubs and gogo bars, were ordered closed. They could open only if they turn themselves into normal restaurants.

He said that given the nature of his business, this was an unworkable solution.

"It would have been impossible. This bar is naturally alcohol oriented and these would be expensive changes, especially considering my place is deep in Soi 4 and unlikely to attract customers as a restaurant alone."

Even though he has opened again since, with an 11pm closing time, he has seen little trade as Patpong is an area which has traditionally played host to foreigners seeking a good time, with few locals seeing it as a destination of choice for a night out.

"My bar relies on tourism, and Thais do not party that hard like the farangs. Even if that were not case, no one has money to spend on frivolities at the moment," he said.

Earnings plummeted to 1,000 baht on some evenings, yet the high running costs associated with the area remained unchanged.

Even more surprisingly, there was no reduction in the unofficial operating "rents" associated with some of the city's red light areas.

So, for now, Mr Chayanggurn says he's holding on, waiting to see if a new partner can help keep the bar afloat until the area, his soi being especially popular among the LGBT community, springs back to life. He believes that should be sooner rather than later.

Stools are put up on the tables at bars in the popular Soi Cowboy nightlife area of Bangkok. Entertainment businesses have ground to a halt during the second Covid-19 outbreak. Pornprom Satrabhaya

"I truly appreciate that health is one of the most important aspects of national security but must think of the economy too.

"After our experience last year [with few Covid-19 cases], we know how to stay safe. And there's a vaccine just around the corner, so they should let us open our doors and begin accepting foreign arrivals again."

Phokavin Phutthakunsothon, 37, a shareholder in the two-month-old "Toei Talay" restaurant in Lad Phrao 101/5 is also having to deal with a huge fall in trade after the central shrimp market in Samut Sakhon became known as the epicentre of the reemergence of Covid-19 in December and scared away people from eating seafood.

"Although we hired the boats in the South to catch seafood for us, customers are reluctant to eat it because they think that we bought our ingredients from Mahachai [the market]," he said.

Coupled with the perception of seafood as a costly meal during these tough times, Mr Phokavin says the outlook remains bleak.

This was his second business after he closed his spicy food restaurant "Threesome Yum Sap" in February last year.

"I used to earn around 20,000 baht a day but after Covid-19 came, our income decreased dramatically to 400 baht a day. I can remember I earned 438 baht on the day we closed yet I had 40,000 baht of seafood left in the refrigerator."

At that time, people were too afraid to go out, and nobody wanted to buy takeaway spicy food as it tends to lose its taste unless consumed immediately, he said.

As a result, he had no money and no accommodation. His attempt to sell food online while staying with his friend failed, so he decided to enter the monkhood in Suphan Buri.

After eight months, with the Covid situation seemingly under control, he says he felt ready to give running a business another shot. Unfortunately, like most people, he chose not to allow for the fact that the same situation, with the same problems, might be just around the corner.

Meanwhile, Kamol Ngaokukan, 67, the owner of the 30-year-old Southern Cuisine restaurant in Soi Rama 3/29 area revealed that his income had halved, despite it being in a good area catering for a mostly local clientele.

Grilled chicken sells in front of Pazan Bar and Restaurant, where the owner has turned his business that usually serves alcohol into a restaurant after being hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nutthawat Wicheanbut

Yet massive lay-offs in local offices and businesses saw his customer base dry up too.

"There were only around 40% left in one of the companies after huge lay-offs last year."

He revealed that he earned only 5,000–6,000 baht a day recently, barely enough to pay the costs.

"Even after I earned that for five days, there is nothing left to save. I need to pay 20,000 [baht] a week for the groceries. That 10,000 [baht] left will be used to pay for gas and living costs for my family of five.

"Not to mention the 5,000 baht monthly rental pay and another 150,000 for a new three-year lease that I need to find by this August. How am I going to find that amount?" he said.

The government's "Khon La Khreung" co-payment and relief package schemes did not help him much as he needs cash and cash flow to run his business. Meanwhile, the money gained from the schemes is paid as debits in the government-run app and withdrawal as cash can be done with limits and only in a designated period of time.

"I don't know what to say. I just keep praying that my family and this country can survive the effects of this pandemic."

Unlike some others, Pongpat Penchotiros, the 29-year-old owner of Pazan Bar and Restaurant, is lucky that the decision to turn his bar into a charcoal grilled chicken restaurant after the first wave proved a success.

"When they [government] asked us to close, we shut the rooftop and focused on the restaurant on the ground floor which only had to shut an hour earlier," he said.

Although he's not making the money he made before, he says they have made adjustments to stay afloat.

"As the purchasing power of consumers decreased, we needed to reduce costs," he said.

Mr Pongpat said he is happy with the Khon La Khrueng scheme, but said people's technological illiteracy could be a hindrance and said he believed the soft lockdown wasn't thought through.

"Closure orders and restrictions should be the same everywhere [instead of allowing the provincial governor to decide for each province. Furthermore, the government should give us more time to prepare."

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