Maxwell hawkers hit as food spot 'vanishes'

Construction work for the upcoming Thomson-East Coast MRT line is affecting business at the once-popular Maxwell Food Centre.

Stallholders there say their takings have dropped by 20 per cent to 50 per cent since the carpark serving the centre was closed for construction work in March this year.

They said the drop in footfall started when the construction hoardings went up in mid-2014 and got worse when the carpark was closed this year. The construction work has given visitors the impression that the food centre, which has over 100 stalls, is closed.

A representative for the stallholders, Mr Richard Ng, 60, said at least 10 stalls have closed since October, with most new, unestablished stalls managing to stay open for just one to two months. "Some taxi drivers tell visitors who want to come here that we are closed.

Tourists who visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple opposite can't see us from South Bridge Road either," said Mr Yeo Piak Hee, 66, a stall assistant at Teochew Hand Made Ball, which has seen profits drop by 30 per cent since March.

Currently the food centre is visible only from Maxwell Road and a side street - Kadayanallur Street - as these do not have hoardings.

Besides the problem with visibility, hawkers said the closure of the carpark serving the centre has made it difficult for would-be customers. Due to the construction of the MRT station which will last till 2021, the Erskine Road carpark, which has over 90 parking spaces, will be closed till June 2018.

When it reopens, only 28 car and four motorcycle spaces will be reinstated.

When The Straits Times visited last week, there was still a busy lunchtime crowd. But it empties out in the evening, with minimal footfall at stalls tucked away in the corners. Customers used to have to queue about 15 to 20 minutes at Tasty Barbecue, a popular Hainanese-style Western food stall, but it now takes just 10 minutes.

The remaining hawkers (98 per cent of them) signed a petition earlier this month to appeal to the National Environment Agency (NEA) to provide subsidies on stall rentals for the hawkers which cost between $400 and $3,300 monthly.

An NEA spokesman said their request is being evaluated but did not say when a decision will be made.

Mr Ng Kok Hua, 58, who runs the China Street Fritters Stall, also contacted the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) through Jalan Besar GRC MP Lily Neo with a request for the URA Centre's main carpark in Maxwell Road to be opened for public use during weekday evenings and weekends and for access to the food centre to be improved.

The LTA said it has been working closely with the hawker representatives to put up direction signs and banners on construction hoardings around the food centre to inform the public it is still open.

A URA spokesman said it is prepared to open the URA Centre carpark for evening and weekend use, if demand builds up. But stallholders say demand will build up only if there are convenient parking spots available.

These measures will come too late for Stall 12 called Lor Mee, whichhas been around for more than a decade. It will be closing at the end of this month.

"Profits have halved because people don't come here anymore," said Mr Chew Teck Yong, 53, who works there. "We can't survive here."

This article was first published on December 25, 2015.
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