Change comes to one PJ neighbourhood: How the old and the new co-exists in Taman Paramount

·6-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, July 17 — Taman Paramount made the news recently when it started trending on social media. The mature Petaling Jaya suburb first developed in the 1960s is having a moment.

Every weekend now, young women in the trickiest of low-waisted jeans and crop tops or enveloped in oversized blazers and platform boots crowd this once quiet enclave.

In between older businesses that have long been part of the neighbourhood, you will now find a mix of trendy eateries and curated thrift stores.

General scene at a Awesome Canteen on the street of Taman Paramount in Petaling Jaya, Selangor June 19, 2022. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
General scene at a Awesome Canteen on the street of Taman Paramount in Petaling Jaya, Selangor June 19, 2022. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

General scene at a Awesome Canteen on the street of Taman Paramount in Petaling Jaya, Selangor June 19, 2022. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

“I didn’t think it’d become that neighbourhood,” said Yi Hui, who frequents Taman Paramount for a comforting bowl of noodles at Choon Prawn Mee House. “It's not that I mind but it’s just that there are more people.”

Anthony Ng, who runs a locksmith in the area, said: “It’s like a fashion show on the weekends. I’ve never seen these people with bright red hair and these funny clothing. But it’s nice because I have a new set of clientele,” he said.

Anthony Ng runs a locksmith shop in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Anthony Ng runs a locksmith shop in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Anthony Ng runs a locksmith shop in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Earlier in June, a close network of businesses in Taman Paramount hosted a three-day event called “Jalan Jalan Paramount”, believed to be inspired by the Japanese discount store named Jalan Jalan Japan.

The event sparked a social media craze and humour surrounding Gen Zs in Taman Paramount.

While gentrification may seem part of a modern trend in many old neighbourhoods — Petaling Street and Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur are two examples — it really is nothing new.

Take the cinema — also called Paramount — which was opened in the early 70s and closed down in 1985 due to poor attendance.

It was reopened in 1987 but finally, in 1997, it was left abandoned until Giant supermarket took over the space two years later. Now, it is occupied by another supermarket, Star Grocer.

So nothing really stays the same in any neighbourhood, even if it seems that way to outsiders.

Older folks don’t seem to mind the influx of a younger crowd in the area.

Chan Kee the duck rice seller in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Chan Kee the duck rice seller in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Chan Kee the duck rice seller in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

"This area used to be quite empty outside of meal hours. There was nothing much here aside from the electrical parts store, car workshops, and the few restaurants that have been here for a long time,” said 71-year-old Chan who owns Chan Kee Roast Duck.

When asked what he thought about the new changes to the neighbourhood, he responded that it’s “very good.”

“It's nice to have a newer crowd of people coming to this part of town. My business has gotten better as well,” he said.

So who kickstarted Taman Paramount’s gentrification?

Dora Ong is pictured at the Awesome Canteen in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Dora Ong is pictured at the Awesome Canteen in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Dora Ong is pictured at the Awesome Canteen in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

One of the driving forces behind the change are sisters Diane and Dora Ong. They quit the world of design and jumped into the food and beverage industry in 2014 when they opened Awesome Canteen with a group of friends.

Fast forward eight years and they have a much larger footprint in Taman Paramount now with event space Awegallery which hosts exhibitions and other events, lifestyle store Ilaika (which shares a space with the cafe One Half) and of course Chipta 11A, a modern Japanese omakase-inspired restaurant helmed by Chef Jack Weldie.

Customers doing their work in One Half x ilaika in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Customers doing their work in One Half x ilaika in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Customers doing their work in One Half x ilaika in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

When Awesome Canteen first opened, they worked very hard to make sure their core customers included people from their own neighbourhood and not just drop-ins from other neighbourhoods.

Since those early days, a whole host of other cafes and restaurants like Monster and Beer, Shokudo, Broom Artisanal Bakery, Hide and Seek and Kakiyuki have made Taman Paramount their home.

But it is the events and thrift shops that have created the latest buzz. How did that come about?

“We weren’t sure what kind of events we wanted to host so we accepted all kinds. But slowly we started identifying ourselves for the bundle or street market events which were very well received,” Dora, who runs Awegallery, said.

“People used to go to Amcorp Mall for secondhand items, but now people come to Paramount Garden. We realised that the trend is carried on by FIFTH, Delc’s and Polydextrous Studios and so on.”

FIFTH founders, Jaden and Darren Ho in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May
FIFTH founders, Jaden and Darren Ho in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

FIFTH founders, Jaden and Darren Ho in Taman Paramount, June 15, 2022. — Picture by Choo Choy May

FIFTH opened in late 2021 and has earned a reputation for their uniquely curated fashion items. Polydextrous Studios which was also born during the pandemic is an all-inclusive collaborative space and photography studio while curated thrift store Del'cs is run by Diane’s 18-year-old daughter Hayley.

Diane views the rapidly changing Taman Paramount in a positive light.

“I think it was done in a very organic manner, it's not intrusive. It’s a nice injection of youth into an old neighbourhood that otherwise was very one-dimensional before the introduction of these new shops,” she said.

Dora echoes her, quoting a Chinese idiom that translates to “all good things come to an end.” “There’s never a place or a situation that will remain the same forever. Eventually, the younger generation will take over. We have helped to give a facelift here,” she said.

But has this change given rise to concerns about driving out the existing business community and pushing up the rent? After all, this has happened to neighbourhoods like Bangsar and Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

“We’ve added so much value to the businesses here. The only downside might be rent but we’re very careful as to not overpay so we don’t affect the other renters heavily,” Dora added.

Diane acknowledges that rent isn’t something that is completely within their control and is highly dependent on their landlords.

However, business owners like Chan and Ng said rent has not gone up yet, partly because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but won’t be surprised if rent increases once the global economy stabilises.

As Dora said, nothing ever stays the same.

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