Business profile

Arts Collective Shines with Retro Flair

One hotelier beat the pandemic by turning his empty guesthouse into a funky arthouse
Pteas Chas. Picture: Sam
Pteas Chas. Picture: Sam

The 1950s shophouse near Old Market would have made the perfect boutique hotel. The five-story walkup — with old-school ceramic tiles, an atrium stairwell and rooftop river views — had tons of throwback charm and 60s-era style.

Covid-19 and the lockdowns dashed it all.

Hem Chan Sopheak. Picture: Meas Molika
Hem Chan Sopheak. Picture: Meas Molika

“I put a ton of work and money into the building, and we were ready for tourists,” said Hem Chan Sopheak, the hotel’s owner. “Then the coronavirus started spreading and they closed the borders. That was the toughest time of my life.”

The hotel never received a single visitor.

Hem Chan Sopheak was not alone. The pandemic upended life for thousands of tourism-related businesses. An unknown number closed for good. Around 6 million people lost jobs.

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With bills piling high and rooms vacant, Hem Chan Sopheak reached out to artist friends with the idea of turning his empty hotel into a local arts collective. He called it Pteas Chas, or old house.

"We wanted businesses to focus on retailing differently, on adding value to our community,” he said. “The cafe will be open for food and beverages, and we have an art gallery on the third floor. When the public comes to drink coffee or view the art, they will see all the businesses in the building, which all sell locally made products.”

For now Pteas Chas is home to a plant store, a clothes shop, an art studio and a gallery, with more additions on the way.

Inside Pteas Chas. Picture: Sam
Inside Pteas Chas. Picture: Sam

Saron Chhem has a shop on the first floor where she makes clothing and hand-printed textiles. She used to sell only online, and the new space has given her a sense of permanency. Customers drop by to browse and sales are picking up.

''All of the businesses here draw similar kinds of customers,'' she said. ''Those who come to buy plants or swimming suits sometimes become my customers too.''

Lynne Hommeyer runs an art studio and gallery on the third floor. She said the sense of community in the building persuaded her to take up residence.

Inside Pteas Chas. Picture: Sam
Inside Pteas Chas. Picture: Sam

''It's wonderful that people from Cambodia, France, the USA and other countries are here together,” she said. “We are collaborating on our individual arts and entrepreneurial ideals.''