What’s the best way to beat the Siem Reap business blues? Simply pack up and move to Phnom Penh.
That’s what some businesses in Siem Reap’s hip and trendy Kandal Village have done after the precinct was hit hard by the virus-induced tourism crash.
Ten businesses shut up shop in the village, but two of them – Trunkh Concept Store and Paradise – have relocated to Phnom Penh, while Adam Rodwell, serial entrepreneur and co-owner of The Little Red Fox Espresso has kept his café open, but also picked up work in the Penh.
“I’ll be working for the soon-to-be-opened Hyatt Regency, consulting for coffee/F&B, which is very exciting, also as some of the management were in Siem Reap before as well,” he said.
Rodwell added: “The other job is helping set up a new business called ‘Slate. By PDM’ in Phnom Penh. I am working with Stuart Doust, former executive chef of Sokha Siem Reap and Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, under the owner of PDM and Phat Tosedadevi.”
Trunkh’s move to Phnom Penh has some irony about it because the store originally opened there in 2013. But new owners took the bold move of relocating to Siem Reap.
Making the decision to return to the Penh was a tough call, according to Philip Moore, who owns Trunkh together with Dennis Adolphe.
“Moving day was an emotional rollercoaster,” he says, “When we made the decision to leave Australia and move to Cambodia, we constantly referred to it as ‘running toward the end of the pier and jumping’. We approached the decision to move Trunkh to Phnom Penh in the same way,” he said.
“When we closed Trunkh in Siem Reap in late March we thought it was a temporary measure for probably a month to ensure the safety of our staff and customers at what seemed at that point to be the peak of the pandemic,” said Moore.
“The lease contract on the shop was due to expire on May 1, and it was clear by then that infections were spiking internationally and that tourists returning to Siem Reap in meaningful numbers was going to be at least a year away given what was playing out, he said. “That was when we made the tough call not to renew our lease and to close up shop.”
“We basically went into lockdown at home for the next month, but during that time we became aware that many expats were choosing to stay and that Phnom Penh was still functioning relatively normally compared to most major cities around the globe,” said Moore.
“As Trunkh originally opened in Phnom Penh before relocating to Siem Reap, we already had a very strong and loyal customer base there, and after a lot of discussions and number-crunching throughout May we came to Phnom Penh in early June to check the lay of the land and started looking in earnest at potential spaces that might work for the business,” he said.
“We found a beautiful old colonial building at Riverside, which for many years was the Dine in the Dark restaurant. We signed the lease in early July, and Trunkh reopened on September 12,” said Moore.
But Philip stresses that he “absolutely” plans re-opening in Siem Reap again when tourism recovers.
The year also started strong for the Paradise Home and Café boutique, with the Kandal Village store turning over nicely and a new outlet opened with great promise in the swank new Aviary Hotel retail strip.
Then it all fell apart and the painful decision had to be made to quit both stores and relocate to Phnom Penh where, on October 11, a new outlet was opened in Street 240, next to The Chocolate Shop.
“It was sad to leave Siem Reap as we loved the small city vibe, the culture, and all the people we would meet from all over the world,” co-owner Peter Reid says.
“However, putting my business hat on, it was clear if we wanted to keep ourselves engaged and busy, we needed to make changes. Phnom Penh presented the best opportunity to do that,” said Reid.
According to Peter, moving was a mixed bag of exhaustion and relief:
“It takes a lot of work to pack up two stores and a household and not involve too many people in doing so,” he says. “Hence it was all just too frantic to have any emotion. But we would love to open in Siem Reap again. Bring on 2021. Or will it be 2022?”
ANGKOR PHOTO FESTIVAL UPDATE
Angkor Photo Festival organizers, under a Department of Health directive, have adapted the program for this year’s festival, which will take place only online from November 29 to December 5.
The inaugural Visual Storytelling Workshops will now be held early next year, from January 10-16.