Tussle for shop space in Tiong Bahru

Tussle for shop space in Tiong Bahru

Every now and then, Mr Cheng Mook Boon, 65, is offered millions of dollars by people who are keen on buying his coffee shop in Tiong Bahru.

He and his wife, Madam Lim Toi Ang, 62, have been selling Hainanese curry rice at Yong Siak Street for 23 years.

Back then, the 1,800 sq ft corner unit was worth less than $250,000, a far cry from an offer of $12 million several months ago. There have also been those willing to pay him $20,000 a month to rent the place.

Old and new kids tussle over Tiong Bahru

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    Mr Cheng Mook Boon and his wife Lim Toi Ang started their Hainanese curry rice restaurant in Yong Siak Street in 1990 and are happy to spend their sunset years running the business, with the help of eldest daughter Dawn Cheng.

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    Back then, the 1,800 sq ft corner unit was worth less than $250,000, a far cry from an offer of $12 million several months ago. There have also been those willing to pay him $20,000 a month to rent the place.

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    But the couple is not swayed by these generous offers. They have three children and their eldest daughter, Ms Dawn Cheng, 39, helps with the business.

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    According to the director of PropertyBank, Ms Edith Tay, who is in her 40s, monthly rental for shop space in Tiong Bahru ranges between $6 and $12 per sq ft. A three-storey, freehold 887 sq ft commercial unit in the area was sold for $4.3 million late last year.

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    Mr Goh Wee at his provision shop Hup Seng in Tiong Bahru. He says his customers buy fewer things now than before – a bottle of soft drink, compared with sacks of rice and milk powder in the past.

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    Hua Bee coffee shop, nestled in a corner of Moh Guan Terrace will close in mid-June 2013. The coffee shop which has only two stalls - one selling drinks, the other noodles has been operating for more than 70 years.

    Earlier this month, Hua Bee coffee shop in Moh Guan Terrace was leased out to hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, 41.

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    40 Hands, a 50-seater speciality coffee shop, at Tiong Bahru.

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    Given the hot property prices in Tiong Bahru, old businesses there are sitting on a goldmine. A slew of old businesses have closed down to make way for new tenants in the past few months. Owners of the old shops have been getting offers almost every month to rent or sell their space.

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    In the last three years, provision shops, an egg seller and a coffee shop have made way for new tenants.

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    The wave of new ventures began around 2010, when artisanal coffee joint 40 Hands, opened by Australian barista Harry Grover and the Spa Esprit Group, opened in sleepy Yong Siak Street. Since then, clothing boutiques, cafes, patisseries and bookstores have sprouted up all over the neighbourhood.

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    Hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng: "I have been thinking of Tiong Bahru for a while now. One of the unique things about it is that heritage element which I am a big fan of."

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    There are currently 22 food and beverage outlets among the 64 HDB commercial properties in Tiong Bahru

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    Last month, Mr Goh Chwee and his wife, Madam Ong Lee, both 75, closed Hup Seng, their 58-year-old provision shop. For about $8,000 a month, they are renting out the space to a new venture, Kisses Bakery, which will open next month. It is owned by Ms Wendy Koh, 25, Mr Phil Choo, 27, and Ms Wang Ting, 26.

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    Close to six decades ago, Mr Goh rented the space for less than $50. He bought the shop for about $20,000 in 1965. In the past few years, he has been able to make ends meet but has not made a profit.

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    He says: "It was not very hard work to run the shop but everyone has been advising us to rent out our space. We finally decided it was time to retire."

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    Mr Cher Kee Chiang, of Ah Chiang's Porridge, chose to sell his porridge business in Tiong Poh Road for a six-figure sum in 2005, but he continues to work at the coffee shop and is paid a monthly salary that is a mid-four-figure sum.

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    Although he has taken a pay cut - he used to earn a five-figure sum when he was his own boss - Mr Cher has no regrets about his decision. Most decades-old businesses in Tiong Bahru have handed their shops over to entrepreneurs drawn to the hip neighbourhood.

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    Brothers (from left) Peter Chan, Desmond Chen, Michael Chan and Simon Chan, are the co-owners of hardware store Hock Eng Hin in Seng Poh Road. They are not taking advantage of the hot property market just yet, even as most other decades-old businesses in Tiong Bahru have handed their shops over to entrepreneurs drawn to the hip neighbourhood.

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    Mr Yeo Kee (centre), who runs the 33-year-old Tiong Bahru Yong Tau Fu store in Eng Hoon Street, has been leasing out his coffee shop in the evenings to Western eatery Two Face Pizza & Taproom. He opens his shop from Mondays to Saturdays for half a day. After he closes at about 2pm, Mr Victor Tan and his staff take over.

But the couple is not swayed by these generous offers. They have three children and their eldest daughter, Ms Dawn Cheng, 39, helps with the business.

Mr Cheng says: "Money cannot talk to me, what is more important is what I wake up to every day and how we spend our sunset years."

While he remains resolute, elsewhere in Tiong Bahru, other decades-old businesses have handed their shops over to entrepreneurs drawn to the hip neighbourhood, which has been featured in international publications such as The New York Times.

According to the director of PropertyBank, Ms Edith Tay, who is in her 40s, monthly rental for shop space in Tiong Bahru ranges between $6 and $12 per sq ft. A three-storey, freehold 887 sq ft commercial unit in the area was sold for $4.3 million late last year.

In the last three years, provision shops, an egg seller and a coffee shop have made way for new tenants.

The wave of new ventures began around 2010, when artisanal coffee joint 40 Hands, opened by Australian barista Harry Grover and the Spa Esprit Group, opened in sleepy Yong Siak Street. Since then, clothing boutiques, cafes, patisseries and bookstores have sprouted up all over the neighbourhood.

There are currently 22 food and beverage outlets among the 64 HDB commercial properties in Tiong Bahru.

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