Smith Street Food Complex reopens after two years
Debbie Yong
Wed, Apr 30, 2008

THEY are hanging up their new signboards and scrubbing down their old woks in anticipation.

For most of the 80 hawkers relocated to the Chinatown Temporary Food Market next to Outram Park MRT station, tomorrow marks their much-awaited homecoming.

Their original premises, the iconic Smith Street Food Complex, will be reopening tomorrow after an almost two-year closure for refurbishment. Most stalls are expected to be operational by second-week May.

The 25-year-old complex's reopening had been put off twice because of construction delays.

Stallowner Francis Lai, 54, is so keen on the move back that he forked out almost $9,000 designing new menus and picture displays to match 'the new look of the new hawker centre'.

The facelift cost the National Environment Agency $17.3 million, which was spent on larger walkways, increasing the number
of tables to 602, and adding airwells to stream more light into the previously dark and cramped second floor area.

Balconies and facades with elaborate oriental motifs as well as lifts, ramps, and wheelchair-friendly tables for the elderly and disabled were added.

The three-storey market and food centre now has 226 cooked food stalls, 200 market stalls and 277 goods and sundry stalls.

Despite keen competition from the nearby Chinatown Food Street, where hawker fare is served at outdoor pushcart stalls and shophouse restaurants, Smith Street Food Complex hawkers my paper spoke to said they are banking on their long histories and signature dishes to pull in customers old and new.

Said Mr Lai, who has been running the highly-rated Grand Stewed Herbal Soup and BBQ for a decade: 'After seeing the famous sights in Chinatown like our neighbour, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, tourists can come over and try Singaporean food while experiencing the local lifestyle.'

But what some hawkers get a buzz from presents a case of nerves for others.

Said the owner of Huan Xi foodstall, Mr Michael Teo, 54, who has been selling Cantonese-style tze char for more than 20 years in the food complex: 'After we finally got adjusted to the temporary place, now we have to go back and start all over again.'

Chief among his concerns is that the new food complex does not have enough parking spaces in the vicinity. The temporary site was in the middle of a large carpark for more than 100 cars.

Another new thing hawkers will have to get used to: Higher rents. Stallholders now pay $1,100 monthly for an approximately 330 sq ft stall, more than double the $340 to $550 a month they used to pay in 2006.

Some stallowners said that they intend to raise prices or extend operating hours to cope.

Quipped stall assistant Madam Siew Phui Yeng, 58: 'What can we do? Like the customers, we also have to eat, right?'

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