Business up as barriers come down in Bt Timah

Business up as barriers come down in Bt Timah
The hoardings that used to block the shopfronts of some businesses in the Upper Bukit Timah area were removed last month after the completion of major construction for the MRT Downtown Line 2.

Eateries in Cheong Chin Nam Road are gearing up for bustling business as construction in the Upper Bukit Timah area winds down.

The more than 20 businesses along the once popular food stretch are seeing increased footfall and more walk-in customers, after the hoardings from the construction of the MRT Downtown Line 2 were removed last month.

Since then, some eateries said they have seen takings go up by between 20 and 50 per cent.

Halal restaurant Al-Azhar, which has been in the area for 15 years, said now that its shopfront is visible from the main road, many more walk-in customers have appeared.

And South Korean barbecue restaurant No. 1 Buffet said its dinner crowd had swelled from a handful to over 30 diners on weeknights.

On weekends, the 80-seat restaurant is full, said its waitress Sang Chai. "We need to hire more people now to handle the crowd."

The one-lane road had been fenced up since 2009 to shield people from noise and dust from the construction of the MRT line, which will link the Bukit Timah corridor to the new Marina downtown.

The work was originally slated to be completed by late 2015 but has been pushed back to mid-2016 after the main contractor filed for insolvency last year.

Besides the dust and noise, businesses were plagued by lack of parking spaces, frequent road diversions and traffic jams.

Monthly earnings fell by as much as half, said restaurants, forcing businesses to change hands repeatedly over the last four years.

Said Mr Moses Chong, director of Koon Bak Kut Teh: "It was like a dead street... people thought we had closed down."

Since moving into the unit in March last year, Mr Chong said he had to offer meal discounts to draw people, and has incurred about $100,000 in losses so far.

But the gloom and doom may soon be over.

A Land Transport Authority spokesman told The Straits Times that the three entrances into the new Beauty World station will be completed by early next year.

"We have also started electrical and mechanical installation and architectural finishing work at the station," said the spokesman. She added that roads are expected to be fully reinstated by mid-2015.

New restaurant bar Stirling, which moved in three months ago, is looking to bring back interest in the area by holding a three-week-long music festival, featuring live music performances by 15 home-grown artists every weekend.

Its owner, Mr Elwyn Chan, believes the stretch will become the next Holland Village.

He added: "We want to bring back the good old days when it was a vibrant food street."

Engineer Joshua Chen, 35, who goes to Al-Azhar for supper once a week, said: "We can eat in peace without all the dust and tremors and we can also stay longer in the area and go for drinks at the bars."

This article was published on Sept 8 in The Straits Times.

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