Once a mangrove swamp, Sungei Kadut, in north-western Singapore, was transformed in the 1970s into an industrial estate of sawmills and other wood-based factories.
The high concentration of flammable materials in the area made it such a fire hazard that its very own fire post was set up in 1999.
Today, fires are still a hazard in Sungei Kadut and it is still an area associated with construction. It is now known especially for furniture, with more than 15 furniture manufacturing companies such as Novena and Star Furniture there, said the Singapore Furniture Industries Council.
The area's future is bright, as developer JTC Corporation plans to build the JTC Furniture Hub @ Sungei Kadut.
The hub will feature showrooms, a training institute for the likes of carpenters and designers and a design lab for new furniture firms to discuss ideas.
Announcing plans for the hub last month, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan said Singapore's export-oriented furniture industry has kept up a healthy growth rate, with revenue rising 2.8 per cent from 2013 to reach an estimated $6.3 billion last year.
When asked, JTC said it is still working on the project and could not give more details.
Even before the new development, the area already has a hub in the shape of the five-storey International Furniture Centre (IFC), located in Sungei Kadut Loop.
Set up in 2007, it is designed to draw people looking to furnish and decorate their homes. It has three levels of showrooms and two levels of offices.
Visitors can check out King Koil beds, Victorian-style sofas or antique American country-style kitchen cupboards that would not look out of place in the 1939 movie The Wizard Of Oz.
The IFC showrooms stand in contrast to the smog, clatter of construction and sight of factory workers in other parts of Sungei Kadut.
Most of the shops in the IFC had moved from the IMM Building in Jurong East about seven years ago.
Mr David Tan, 50, an employee of one of the furniture shops, said the businesses were drawn by lower rent. "As an industrial area, the rent is much lower than in residential areas. Furniture shops need a lot of space to showcase their wares, so that's why they came here," he said.
Mrs Rose Cheong, 50, one of the furniture shop owners, said: "The area used to be filled with furniture manufacturing companies, even more so than today.
"And because they could sell wholesale, it was thought that shops could also ride on this trend and set up shop here."
Initially, strong and aggressive advertising drew customers to the IFC. But over time, the advertising campaigns stopped, and the flow of customers on weekdays started to slow three to four years ago, said furniture shop staff.
These days, shoppers show up mainly on weekends.
Sungei Kadut is not easily accessible - the only bus service running through the area is service 925.
The closest MRT station, Yew Tee, is at least 2.5km away.
The IFC offers a free shuttle bus service. But furniture shop owner Ashley Lim, 45, pointed out: "(It) operates only on weekends and public holidays. This means only those who drive will drop by on weekdays."
Empty showrooms are a common sight at the centre - several shops are looking to relocate, while others are offering massive clearance sales.
"Unless there is better accessibility to the area, it looks like it will be an uphill battle," Mr Daniel Yap, 32, a real estate agent and a rare weekday shopper, said of the area's prospects.
"I hope they can provide a shuttle bus service for customers on weekdays as well. That way, maybe more people will come," he added.
Despite the lack of weekday business, some retailers remain cautiously hopeful about the area's prospects after the completion of the new JTC hub.
Furniture shop owner Eric Goh, 48, said: "I think it's good, since it means there will be more competition in this area. More competition means more people will come and check out the shops, the prices."
This article was first published on April 24, 2015.
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