Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chain stores head for Serangoon Garden

Neighbourhood icons make way as new mall makes area a hot spot for big-name shops

BIG business is moving into Serangoon Garden.

One of the area's most iconic outlets, the famous Posin Hainanese Chicken Rice stall, will soon make way for a Citibank branch.

The tenants at the 40-year-old coffee shop at the junction of Serangoon Garden Way and Chartwell Drive - the oldest in the area - have been told to leave by the end of the month, and Citibank will begin renovations in August. The branch is expected to open in the fourth quarter of the year.

As a result of being forced out, three of the coffee shop's six stalls are shutting down for good. The others have found alternative locations nearby.

Posin, for instance, is moving two units away, into an air-conditioned restaurant. It will be more comfortable for customers, said its manager Tang Mun Cheong, but he admitted that prices will have to go up as a result.

Citibank is the latest big entrant into the Serangoon Garden area, which is very popular among residents and others.

Other big chains that have moved in - and forced out long-time small businesses in the process - include Harry's Bar, Sushi Tei and Cold Storage.

They have replaced, respectively, a second-hand watch shop, a neighbourhood pub and a quaint ceramic crockery shop.

Early last year, the neighbourhood's key feature, the 50-year-old Paramount Theatre complex, was torn down. Construction of a $40 million mall, called The Village, has started, and it will open in the third quarter of this year, adding 38,000 sq ft of retail space and more big names, including dessert cafe Bakerzin, ice cream parlour Udders Ice Cream and Japanese ramen restaurant Menya Manpei to the mix.

The Serangoon Garden area is seen as a neighbourhood jewel among big-name retailers, and demand for space among them is rocketing.

Citibank Singapore's head of retail banking, Ms Ong Lay Choo, said of its 'takeover' of the coffee shop: 'Serangoon Garden, a thriving hub with a growing affluent and emerging affluent population, is an ideal place for us to open our 23rd branch.'

Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at real estate consultancy Chesterton Suntec International, said the new mall has acted as a beacon in drawing the big chains to the neighbourhood.

'All these big names like Harry's are moving in because they see that the place will be more of a magnet once the mall opens,' said Mr Tan, who has done research on the area.

'Customer traffic will increase, and people from nearby neighbourhoods and elsewhere will visit Serangoon Garden.'

The changes, said Singapore Polytechnic marketing and retail lecturer Andrew Lee, reflect consumers' increasing love of suburban haunts.

'It links to a lifestyle change. Time-starved Singaporeans value time and convenience above all else,' he said, adding that mall developers are stepping up to satisfy that demand.

'In response, developers are creating new catchment areas in the suburbs where rent is lower compared to the city area.'

The big boys are also packing a lot more cash to entice small business owners with.

The owner of the coffee shop that will close, Mr Loi Boon Kee, 55, said he was approached by Citibank last year. The banking giant offered him more than $30,000 a month in rent, he said, 40 per cent more than what he currently collects.

The father of two, who runs the drinks stall at the coffee shop, said with a tinge of regret: 'I have grown with Serangoon Garden, and we were the first coffee shop here when the place was filled with pushcarts with food.

'But the offer was too good to resist, and I am getting old.'

Meanwhile, Serangoon Garden residents are looking forward to the increasing options at their doorstep, but wary that traffic congestion at the estate will only get worse.

'I have always felt that we had not enough shops in the area, it is always the same old thing, so boring,' said housewife Jenny Tan, 53.

'I am only afraid that the traffic problem here will get worse. The weekends are already quite bad, especially near the roundabout and the market.'

Source: Straits Times, 24 Jun 2010

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