More than 150 traditional markets are scattered across the vast metropolis of Jakarta, which is home to about 9.5 million people. If you have the urge to eat cake after midnight you can head over to Pasar Senen. If you need to have a dress or shirt made, travel to Pasar Tanah Abang.
All of these markets operate under state-controlled Pasar Jaya, which was established on Dec. 24, 1966, by the Jakarta governor to organize and develop traditional markets.
Its head office is located on the fourth floor of Pramuka Market in Pramuka, East Jakarta. Unlike other state-controlled companies, Pasar Jaya is an independent business entity that operates from its own budget, according to Yohanes Daramonsidi, its head of public relations.
“Oh, we would love to have a budget allocation or receive financial aid from the local government to fund our market revitalization projects, but since Pasar Jaya is practically a professionally run company, we just have to run a good business and make a profit to survive and serve our main function to effectively organize and develop traditional markets in Jakarta,” Yohanes said.
According to Pasar Jaya data, the number of traditional markets in Jakarta has stayed at about 153 in the last 27 years. The markets now have to compete with the hundreds of supermarkets and minimarkets across the city as well as hypermarts including Carrefour.
What attracts some to Jakarta’s traditional markets are the unique characters of the vendors themselves, while others might be turned off by it.
“In some stalls, the shopkeepers or owners are doing business without their shirt on, while some others just don’t care about the ‘No Smoking’ sign,” Yohanes said. “We always educate our vendors about how important these seemingly little things are in attracting more customers to the market for their own benefits” he added.
Some Jakartans even think that Pasar Jaya is a traditional market in itself just like Pasar Kramat Jati, Pasar Mayestik or Pasar Koja.
Jakarta’s traditional markets sell a variety of goods, not all of it food related. Many traditional markets in the city specialize in a single item.
A small example is Pasar Rawa Bening, heaven for collectors of precious stones. The dawn cake market in Pasar Senen is another unique spot. Shops open for business after midnight and most, if not all, of their goods are sold before the sun rises.
At Pasar Tanah Abang, the biggest textile center in all of Southeast Asia, at least Rp 100 billion ($11 million) changes hands every day.
Pasar Tanah Abang is an example of what Pasar Jaya classifies as “A-class” traditional market based on the quality of its infrastructure and profit potential. There are six A-class markets in Jakarta. The city has 36 B-class markets and 101 C-class markets.
Yohanes acknowledged that facilities also play a part in making the shopping experience enjoyable. But with so many markets across the city, Pasar Jaya doesn’t have the financial resources to grow them all into mall-like structures, he said.
Fees from the rental of stalls in markets are the main source of revenue for Pasar Jaya. Its net income in 2010 was Rp 60 billion ($6.3 million), of which 40 percent was deducted as revenue for Jakarta.
“It takes at least 20 billion [rupiah] just to build the infrastructure for a small scale traditional market,” Yohannes said.
But now, the thriving growth of modern market chains with their clean, air- conditioned and comfortable shopping experience for the family has taken over. Does this mean that it’s only a matter of time before real traditional markets become history?
Yohanes said that although some people may enjoy shopping in malls, traditional markets will always have an edge that no global chain can ever compete with.
“Customers will always know that the groceries sold in traditional markets are fresher than the ones sold elsewhere,” said Yohanes, explaining that the grocers get their goods straight from the source.
They’re also not able to stock their goods for long or the produce will go bad.
Also, the atmosphere of traditional markets facilitates a friendly and informal social interaction between customers and sellers, either for haggling or just a friendly chat, things you can rarely do with any of the employees in the modern shopping centers in Jakarta.
And that is why Jakarta will always have Pasar Jaya to look after its traditional markets.