Smith Street upgrading causes business to drop by as high as 80%

Eight Chinatown businesses in the shophouses of Smith Street have petitioned the Government to improve conditions along the closed-off road.

They say poor access, ventilation and lighting have sent business plunging by up to 80 per cent since the closure on May 1.

The group sent a petition last Monday to numerous authorities, including the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

It appealed for more lights, fire-prevention equipment and for signboards to be erected. It also asked for regular project updates and compensation of $1,000 a day if a delay occurs.

When The Straits Times visited the street last week, it found its entrances hoarded up. Signs pointed pedestrians to narrow alleyways down its sides, but few ventured in. The closure makes possible a $4 million revamp of Chinatown Food Street, which takes up a 100m stretch of Smith Street.

Select Group was appointed as operator and aims to complete construction in the fourth quarter of the year.The STB's director of cultural precincts and tourism concept development, Mr Poh Chi Chuan, said he was aware of the petition.

He added: "We would like to seek stakeholders' understanding that while there are inevitable inconveniences caused during the construction process, we believe the revitalised Food Street will draw more crowds to the area and eventually benefit the Chinatown stakeholders."

Select Group's spokesman Chloe Sng said that briefing sessions were held with affected businesses and memos distributed to update them on progress.

A fire evacuation plan is also being worked on and will be displayed prominently once it is approved by the SCDF.

Ms Sng added: "Barring unforeseen circumstances like bad weather, we are confident that our renovation process will be on schedule." As for the $1,000 compensation, she suggested that the businesses "consult their respective landlords".

This is cold comfort to those who signed the petition.

Mr William Sun, 31, director of restaurant Xiang Guo Li La, said business fell 80 per cent when the hoarding went up. "Regular customers call to ask if we are still open," he said, adding that his eatery used to make about $2,500 a day. Now it makes about $400, he claimed.

The number of diners at Hunan Traditional Cuisine has halved to fewer than 100 a day, said owner William Woon as "there are no tourists in this area any more". "They think it is a construction site," said the 38-year-old.

Business at jewellery store Li Hong Jade has fallen 30 per cent; tailor Abba's Dept Store claims that walk-in trade has dropped 70 per cent; takings at Ci Yan Vegetarian Health Food have halved; and Nanyang Old Coffee saw a dip of 15 per cent.

"We don't want to stop the project but we hope the effect can be minimised," said Nanyang Old Coffee founder Lim Eng Lam, 46. Australian tourist Karen Grant, 52, was not surprised that retailers on the stretch of road have had their business affected. She and her husband walked right past it. "I didn't realise you could walk down there," said Ms Grant, who is in Singapore for a 10-day trip. "Even if I did, the hoarding would put me off going down there."

limjess@sph.com.sg


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