Hardware zone now backpackers' abode

Hardware zone now backpackers' abode

Bordered by funeral parlours in the east and lighting shops to the west, the wedge of land between Lavender Street and Jalan Besar has previously not drawn much attention.

It is a working man's district, home to hardware merchants and machinery repair shops.

But as more trendy cafes move into the area and bring with them a youthful following, the neighbourhood's hard industrial image is softening up.

In Horne Road opposite the Jalan Besar Stadium, pop music can be heard through the red and gold acrylic frontage of The Bravery, a year-old cafe, on an otherwise quiet weekday.

On weekends, the space fills up with hipsters and cafe-hoppers, drawn by the 10 or so cafes opened in the past two years.

The area is also home to unique businesses such as a one-man appeals writing service and "pop-up shops", whose owners rent premises to sell wares for a short spell - a month in the case of online design marketplace Naiise.

"The crowd flow is a bit unpredictable, it is a growing estate," said Mr Aaron Lim, 26, who manages Windowsill Pies. "FairPrice just opened down the road, so I'm guessing there will be a surge in clientele in the next few months."

Mr Louis Ching, who chairs Kwong Soon Engineering, a ship building and repair firm just round the corner in Cavan Road, also senses a change in the wind.

The 75-year-old was born across the street from where he works. His father set up shop in the area in 1928.

"Back in my time, the Cantonese worked in machinery, the Hokkien worked in hardware, and the Hainanese ran coffee shops," he explained in Mandarin.

"We all knew one another and would help one another out, if we worked in the same line. You can say it was like a kampung," said Mr Ching.

"Now my neighbours have changed, I'm not even sure who they are."

Many hardware shops have shuttered or relocated in the last few years, often replaced by hotels and backpacker inns.

Mr Ong Kah Seng, director of consultancy R'ST Research, said the selling point for the hostels is that "they are in a central location yet they offer a very real glimpse into Singapore" where character is preserved.

Real estate agents said monthly rent for a two-storey shophouse ranges from $5,000 to $10,000, if the shophouse is in an "up-and- coming" area, near other cafes.

Hotel 81 and Fragrance Hotel were the mainstays, until over 10 backpacker hostels opened in the last four years. The newest arrival this June was Parc Sovereign Hotel Tyrwhitt, behind Tibetan Buddhist temple Thekchen Choling.


This article was first published on September 5, 2014.
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