Grungy Geylang seeing new residences and businesses

SINGAPORE - Geylang has been attracting an eclectic mix of newcomers recently. Since last year, at least 10 businesses ranging from start-ups to cafes, co-working spaces and design firms have opened up in the neighbourhood and nearby places such as Cassia Crescent and the old badminton hall in Guillemard Road.

Most of them are owned by entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s, drawn there by affordable rents, access to MRT stations and the grungy character of the neighbourhood.

According to Ms Edith Tay, the director of real estate company PropertyBank, the growing number of residents from new condominiums is also a pull factor, especially for businesses such as cafes.

Upcoming new developments include the condominium Prime Residence in Lorong 22 Geylang, which will be completed later this year, and Rezi 26 in Lorong 26, which will be completed some time next year.

One business tapping into the widening pool of residents in the vicinity is Yoga Inc, a boutique hot yoga studio which opened at 100 Guillemard Road last December.

Its owner, Ms Ashly Lou, 32, said: "My customers are mainly those who live in the HDB flats next door and in the apartments around Geylang. Most businesses take a long time to break even, but so far I have been very blessed by the good location and have not made losses."

One local resident, Ms Poh Shu Chen, 39, who works in a bathroom and kitchen supply company, started attending classes at Yoga Inc in January.

She said: "It is very convenient for me and I have no excuse to miss classes because I live just one minute away.

"I have noticed a younger crowd appearing in my neighbourhood this year. There are more now young families and foreigners such as Koreans and Caucasians."

Despite living nearby, Ms Poh avoids Geylang because she finds it "messy and dirty".

But the rough edges of the area are part of what attracted companies such as Mettle Work. The 12,000 sq ft co-working space was set up on the second floor of an industrial building in Lorong 17 Geylang by Mr Daniel Tay, who is in his late 30s, last October.

"It was not about the rental price for me, because I could have got cheaper rent in Balestier and Kaki Bukit," he said.

"It was more about the edginess of the place. There are the durian sellers next door who do not wear T-shirts and drivers who come for dim sum at a place nearby at night."

Mettle Work attracts creative types from architects to industrial designers who make use of its equipment such as power tools, drills and welding machine. It has a waiting list of about six months.

Mr Ho Jia Jian, 27, the co-founder of online film platform, occupies a space about the size of a master bedroom in another co-working office, called 13, in Lorong 24A.

He said: "Often, visitors come into the shophouse and are impressed with the unique location and local architecture which fit into the company's image of surfacing the best Asian stories through short films."

But there have also been times when visitors had trouble finding their way to Mr Ho's office which is fronted by a red door - and some have found businesses of a different type.

"They went to the next street with a red door, Lorong 24, and were met with a different reception. Even numbers are usually the brothel side of things," he explained.

While these newcomers have brought about some changes to Geylang's demographic, it is unlikely that hip cafes and retail shops will start opening up in the heart of the neighbourhood, Ms Tay believes. Most of them are currently located on the fringes of Geylang like in Cassia Crescent, where cake shop Maple and Market and cafe The Hideout have opened in the last year.

She added: "Geylang is going through a phase of change in terms of the mix of people, but time still seems to have stood still for some areas in the neighbourhood."

This article was first published on Aug 25, 2014.
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