By Daniel Goh
A month back I received a letter from NEA that The Good Beer Company’s lease at Chinatown Complex was coming to an end and needs to be renewed - the good news is that our lease has been extended, and the better news is that from this month my monthly rent has actually gone down. Where I once needed to pay $1,500 per month before GST, that amount will be revised downwards to $1,000. Yay, us!
Apparently we’re not the only beneficiaries - various other stalls whose leases have been renewed have also seen their rentals revised to that figure. But I also understand that leases with rental amounts below $1,000 which are up for renewal are similarly revised upwards towards that mark. It seems like the NEA are looking for parity where rentals are concerned, and I think that is a good thing.
Except that some of the elderly hawkers who have been selling low-priced items - such as your chwee kueh, chee cheong fun, or even roti prata - because they’ve been paying low rents all this while will find it difficult to sustain their business if their rent - which can be as low as $500 - is increased.
A young hawker, who only recently opened up nearby us, has finally decided to end her business around the half year mark. She found it difficult to attract sufficient customers to maintain her business even though she’s got covered in the press a number of times for her different take of hawker fare. She was paying roughly $1,200 per month for rent, but didn’t last long enough to see her rental renewed downwards that may just help her business survive.
We’ve also just got a new neighbour - yet another drinks stall in our corner of the hawker centre that already has at least four - who’s paying a jaw-dropping $1,600 per month in rent. He’s peddling soft drinks, sugarcane juice and beer but I cannot imagine him selling enough to cover that kind of rent, and then paying for everything else. Unless his fortune cat waves hard and frantically enough, I doubt I’d see him last past the year.
At the same time, we’ve just gotten news that another neighbour is moving in - someone who’s successfully tendered for his space at $38 per month. It’s only that low because that stall has been designated for Muslim or Indian food, and the rent he’s paying is even lower than the earlier Muslim stall that opened up near us for $50 per month.
When we asked him what he’d be selling, he sheepishly replied he hasn’t got an idea yet. But at $38 per month, a good business day will already see him cover his rent and more.
It’s hard to get my head round the discrepancies in rent here. I know the authorities are trying their best to balance free market forces with some control over the kinds of food businesses within hawker centres, but in my conversations with fellow hawkers there seems to be a lot of resentment towards such rent differences.
*Figures quoted do not include subletting, which can go for far higher.
The above article was first published on the blog, The Beer Hawker. We thank the writer, Daniel Goh, for allowing us to republish the article here.