Little India eateries count their losses after alcohol ban

MR PARAMJEET SINGH (left), owner of Drinkz Connections, a beverage wholesaler in Race Course Road. Mr Singh, who said he lost $20,000 in alcohol sales over the weekend, called for the authorities to decide on long-term measures by this month.

Shopkeepers and restaurant owners in Little India are counting their losses from an unusual weekend in which they could sell no alcohol, and thousands of workers took heed of their employers' advice and stayed away.

The Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association told The Straits Times that merchants generally reported an average decline in sales of 40 per cent to 60 per cent. Businesses which rely on alcohol sales, such as bars and provision shops, said they lost up to 90 per cent of their usual weekend takings and warned that they might have to close shop altogether if such a ban continues.

None of the 374 holders of a liquor licence could sell any alcohol between 6am last Saturday and 6am on Monday.

"The authorities need to decide what the long-term measures will be by this month. We can't hold on for that long," said Mr Paramjeet Singh, 50. The owner of beverage wholesaler Drinkz Connections in Race Course Road said he lost $20,000 in alcohol sales.

In contrast with the mayhem a week ago, Little India was quiet on the weekend, as the message repeated all week to foreign workers to stay away from the ethnic Indian enclave had its intended effect. Police said there were no fights and no breach of the alcohol ban.

It was so quiet that Zsofi Tapas Bar in Dunlop Street and S&YMD, an alcohol and groceries importer and distributor in Race Course Road, were among those which decided to roll down their shutters on Sunday. S&YMD estimates losses of about $4,000 in the sale of alcohol to migrant workers.

Shopkeepers also reported a discernible drop in the number of tourists, who usually arrive by the busload on Saturday mornings.

On Monday, the police said they were reviewing longer-term measures for the area, "taking into consideration the situation at Little India this weekend and the interests of all affected stakeholders", and would announce them in "due course".

Some business owners asked for more engagement with the authorities.

Zsofi Tapas Bar director Ajay Maddila, 27, said he and two business owners wrote an appeal letter to the authorities on Wednesday asking them to restrict the ban to Sunday, but had no reply.

Several had suggestions like setting a cut-off time of 10pm for alcohol sales, banning drinking in public places and allowing higher- end eateries catering to families and tourists to keep their licences.

Said Drinkz Connections' Mr Singh: "It's the festive season and we are losing money by the thousands."

Meanwhile, Nammavar Provision shop's co-owner Nathan P., 33, plans to order about 40 per cent less alcohol from his supplier this week. To cope with the shortfall in alcohol takings, Muthu's Curry is planning promotions to attract families and other diners.

When asked how he intends to help the shop owners, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, an MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, told The Straits Times: "We should await the measures that will be announced for this coming weekend. Only then can we decide how to help these businesses. Ultimately, these measures have to be fair to all parties involved."

The police also said last night that they have arrested a 41-year- old Indian national in connection with the riot on Dec 8. This brings the total number of suspects nabbed so far to 34.

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