Hougang shopkeepers petition against trade fairs

Shopkeepers in Hougang Central on Tuesday handed the opposition-run town council a petition against the frequent trade fairs that they said have hurt their business.

Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council manages the communal space in front of Hougang Mall, which it leases to organisers of trade fairs for a fee.

Around the thoroughfare are HDB blocks with about 60 shops.

The petition, signed by 31 shopkeepers of 25 units selling goods from clothing to cellphone covers, was addressed to town council chairman Sylvia Lim, who is the Workers' Party (WP) chairman.

The petition said: "The trade fairs are badly affecting our business, as the stalls sell similar products but at lower prices because of their low overheads. We are paying fixed rent and charges."

It asked Ms Lim to reconsider the frequency and duration of the fairs, and review the mix of stalls "to minimise direct competition with us".

Mr Philip Wee, 53, chairman of the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Shops Sub-Committee, presented the petition to the town council's senior public relations executive Kuldip Kaur.

Four shopkeepers accompanied Mr Wee, whose committee comes under a grassroots body, the Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC). The MP for the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol ward in Aljunied GRC is WP chief Low Thia Khiang.

Shopkeepers said business has fallen by up to 80 per cent since the fairs began in April, for two weeks each time and in quick succession.

A two-month Christmas and Chinese New Year fair starting next Friday was the last straw, said the shopkeepers.

Mr Stanley Lai, 46, who sells cellphone covers, said: "Christmas and Chinese New Year are supposed to be the best time for business. We'll suffer."

The shopkeepers say town councils typically consult the shops before organising fairs, but they were not consulted.

Mr Lai said he would have no issue if the fair sold festive goods for residents' convenience, or cars or furniture, like in the past.

Mr Choi A Chao, 56, who sells clothing, puts the issue down to cut-throat competition: "They sell their clothing very cheap, $3 to $5. Our cost price is $10-plus. How can we do business?"

CCC chairman Victor Lye told The Straits Times he had asked to meet Ms Lim "privately only after many shopkeepers had approached me several times".

He said Ms Lim took more than two weeks to confirm a meeting, which was held on Oct 31, and he has yet to get a reply to his e-mail seeking an update.

The petition comes after five shopkeepers, including Mr Malkit Singh, 55, who sells garments, went to the town council to make their case last week.

They met the staff, and were surprised when the town council called in the police, who left without intervening, Mr Singh said.

With no word from the town council since, they decided on the petition, he said: "We're not for the CCC or against this town council. We're for our stomachs."

Ms Lim did not respond to media queries on Tuesday.

The upcoming fair's organiser, Mr Jeff Chan, in questioning the shopkeepers' motives, said: "There are trade fairs all year round at HDB Hub in Toa Payoh, but I haven't heard any public complaint from the shops."

AsiaMalls Management, which runs Hougang Mall, said "sales are as usual" at the mall.


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