SINGAPORE — The Geylang Serai Ramadan bazaar kicked off last Friday (17 Mar) and will run for 36 days until 22 April, which will be the longest duration the bazaar has operated.

The bazaar, an annual event in Singapore during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is known for its variety of halal food, clothing, and gift stalls that attract thousands of visitors each year.

This year, the number of stalls has increased tenfold from last year, with 700 participating stalls compared to 70 in 2022.

While the vendors have presented creatively indulging foods, drinks, and products, visitors may notice that prices have increased year by year.

This is due to several factors, including inflation, increased GST, and high rental costs.

Most vendors have had to bear with the “profit-eating monster” – the ever-increasing rent that reached a new record high this year, with some vendors reportedly paying up to S$18,000 for a single unit.

The main organiser for the bazaar, Wisma Geylang Serai, is under the People’s Association.

Nearly 200 units remain unoccupied despite bazaar launched on 17 March

CNA reported on Sunday (19 March) that nearly 200 units remain unoccupied despite the bazaar launching on 17 March.

One of the vendors interviewed by CNA, founder of The Original Vadai Stephen Suriyah, said one of the struggles faced this year was the “high bids needed to secure a space.”

“Now you see the same spot, probably about six to eight years ago, I was paying about maybe $8000, $10,000 thousand maximum, but now we are paying about close to $18,000, ” he said this might be one of the reasons why there are empty stalls at the bazaar.

Mothership reported that some vendors shared that the rent ranges between S$16,000 and S$19,000 just for one unit.

Katoshka’s founder Hasif recalled that the rent was S$7,000 back in 2016.

‘World’s most expensive pasar malam stall’

Commenting on the stall rental at the Geylang Serai Ramadan bazaar, Makansutra founder Kf Seetoh expressed his surprise at the rental prices, stating that it turns the bazaar “easily the world’s most expensive pasar malam stall offering an unproportionately cheap menu.”

The Singapore’s famous food critic further stated that even top pop-up markets in prime time New York or LA cannot hold a candle to the bazaar’s high rental prices.

“Justifying our world’s most expensive city reputation i guess. How did we get here?”

Kf Seetoh currently runs Urban Hawker food hall in Midtown Manhattan, New York, featuring all kinds of Singaporean cuisine.

According to Berita Harian, the Nasi Ambeng stall in Urban Hawker cost the owners over US$150,000 to set up and a monthly rent of US$10,000 (S$13,400).

‘Bazaar was once meant for the community by the community’

A netizen commented on Kf Seetoh’s Facebook post:

One netizen made an estimate that the high rental cost of $18,000 per month means the vendors have to generate a minimum of $1,200 in pre-cost revenue each day for the next 30 days.

In response to the exorbitant rental costs for stalls at the Geylang Serai Ramadan bazaar, netizen James Chong asks, “How did we get there?”

He traces the evolution of pasar malams from humble kampong events where individuals hawked their wares, to the present day, where profits are controlled by a few who monopolize licenses and bidding for land space.

Andrew Loh, co-founder of The Online Citizen, pointed out that even S$18,000 for a stall at the bazaar is considered cheap, as last year’s rental fees went as high as S$25,000.

In an article from AsiaOne published in April of last year, a stall owner at the Geylang Bazaar shared that she spent a total of S$50,000 covering the entire set-up cost, including “rental, sink fee, electricity fee, food equipment, booth set up, packaging, and logistics” as well as “15 days worth of manpower cost”.

One of the organisers says special stalls for startups or small-scale traders rented out at lower prices

One of the organisers, Mohamed Mustaffa Shah Jehan, founder of Enniche Global Trading said about 80% of the special stalls for startups or small-scale traders at Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar have already been rented out this year.

He told the local Malay media Berita Mediacorp that about 60 stalls in the area were rented out at lower prices, as low as S$55 per day.

This means that vendors only have to pay less than S$2,000 throughout the 36-day bazaar period, compared to S$15,000 for regular stalls outside the special area.

Mr. Mustaffa emphasized that they have taken into account the current situation and are still giving opportunities to traders who may have been severely affected by COVID-19.

“We want to give them the spirit. With that, they are more willing to rent bigger stalls in the future. Based on our experience of more than 10 years of organizing bazaars in Geylang Serai, we found that most traders started at the Geylang Serai bazaar.”

“Alhamdulillah, some of them also have their own physical stalls or even own several shops across Singapore,” he said.

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