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'Time to retire': Some Tanglin Halt shop tenants trudging on till 2027 despite slow business

'Time to retire': Some Tanglin Halt shop tenants trudging on till 2027 despite slow business
Several business owners at Tanglin Halt are facing sluggish sales, while others are unaffected by the slower-than-usual footfall.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE – Having worked as a barber in Tanglin Halt more than half his life, Mr Abdullah Latip, 75, now mainly serves regular customers, some of whom have moved out of the housing estate and return specially for his haircuts.

“All my old customers have had their hair cut by me their whole lives, from when they were in kindergarten up till when they got married. Now, some of them even bring their children along for haircuts,” said the cheerful owner of Salon De Benzimen at 48 Tanglin Halt Road.

Lamenting that business has been down by around two-thirds since residents started moving out in 2021 to make way for the redevelopment of the estate in Queenstown, Mr Abdullah has stayed behind to serve the 10 customers he receives daily – a drop from 30 customers a day in 2019.

He will, however, call it quits in 2027 when he must return his shop unit in one of Singapore’s oldest estates to the Housing Board.

It will be “time to retire” then, Mr Abdullah said.

Mr Abdullah’s barbershop is among the stores at blocks 47, 48 and 49 Tanglin Halt Road that will be cleared for the estate’s redevelopment. As at November, HDB said 23 out of 28 shops at these blocks are still operating.

The public housing authority said it had told tenants in March that their tenancies could be renewed for three years till March 2027, after it concluded that these blocks needed to be cleared only after that time. They were originally meant to return their units by March 2024.

The Tanglin Halt estate was identified for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) in 2014.

Under this programme, Commonwealth Drive Food Centre and Tanglin Halt Market, as well as shops and eating houses at blocks 46-1, 46-2 and 46-3 Commonwealth Drive, and blocks 39 and 47 to 49 Tanglin Halt Road, are slated for renewal. Thirty-one housing blocks will also be torn down.

Some newer HDB blocks in the estate, such as blocks 89 to 91 Tanglin Halt Road, were completed in 2007 and are not affected.

Stallholders at Tanglin Halt Market will shift to a new integrated development – on the site of the former Commonwealth Drive Food Centre – after the first phase of construction work on the development is completed.

Construction is set to start in the second half of 2024.

The second phase of the work will begin on the site of the existing market, once all its stallholders have vacated.

Besides this integrated development, which will also house shops, communal facilities and Queenstown Polyclinic, up to 5,500 HDB flats will be built as part of redevelopment plans for Tanglin Halt.

Many of Mr Abdullah Latip’s customers are regulars who return to his barbershop Salon De Benzimen as they are used to the way he cuts their hair. PHOTO: The Straits Times

When The Straits Times visited the neighbourhood from 8am to 1pm on Oct 31, it observed a small crowd of patrons – mostly office workers at lunchtime – at the existing market and shops nearby.

Like Mr Abdullah, several other business owners are facing sluggish sales, while others are unaffected by the slower-than-usual footfall.

Business has tumbled about 80 per cent for Madam Jiao Ah Mei, who has been running dried-goods stall Ang Seng Mini Mart at the market for 38 years.

For Madam Jiao Ah Mei, business has plunged about 80 per cent at the dried-goods stall Ang Seng Mini Mart. PHOTO: The Straits Times

Many of her elderly customers have moved to far-flung locations, such as Pasir Ris and Punggol, the 78-year-old said, and they would not travel to Tanglin Halt to buy dried anchovies.

Bemoaning the lack of customers, Madam Jiao said she plans to retire soon.

Yet, the owner of Tanglin Halt Original Peanut Pancake, Mr Teng Kiong Seng, 78, said his business at the market is still flourishing, with all his pancakes being sold out by 11am.

Mr Teng said he hopes to continue “preserving the authentic taste of traditional pastries” even after he moves out of the market eventually. He has not made relocation plans because he has not been told whether he will get a stall at the new integrated development.

Tanglin Halt Original Pancake owner Teng Kiong Seng said business at the market is still flourishing. PHOTO: The Straits Times

The National Environment Agency (NEA), which manages Singapore’s markets and hawker centres, told ST it will inform the market’s stallholders of a “move-out date” once it gets HDB’s notice.

Affected market stallholders are entitled to a stall at the new integrated development, or can choose to move to other markets and hawker centres, subject to stall availability, it added.

For Mr Mohamed Zayan, 36, who manages his wife’s family business Blk 49 Tanglin Halt Roti Prata that is next to the market, business is still brisk. About 200 regulars patronise the stall daily.

(From left) Mr Mohamed Zayan runs Blk 49 Tanglin Halt Roti Prata with his mother-in-law Kasimeevi Nagoorgani and sister-in-law Fairose Banu. PHOTO: The Straits Times

When news of the estate’s redevelopment broke, many customers were worried that the stall would close, but were later relieved to learn that it would remain open till 2027, he said.

“Many customers like this place; it feels like we share some kampung spirit,” added Mr Mohamed, who is also a long-time Tanglin Halt resident. “But now that it’s going to be demolished, my heart pain, since all these good memories will be gone.”

Bonfield Watches owner Eric Ong, 64, said his business at Block 48 Tanglin Halt Road has not been affected, as customers still visit his shop for its watch restoration and appraisal services.

Before being told of the three-year extension to his tenancy, he had already made plans to move to a unit nearby. As such, Mr Ong will be operating his business from both units, using one as a drop-off point and the other for pick-ups.

Mr Eric Ong said he did not observe a substantial drop in customers visiting his watch restoration and appraisal shop. PHOTO: The Straits Times

Mr Ong, who has been running his shop since 1985, said: “Who are we anyway? Our time spent here is just borrowed time.”

To help the market’s stallholders cope with a potential slowdown in business, NEA said it has been giving them rental subsidies of 25 per cent from December 2019 to March 2021, and 50 per cent from April 2021 to March 2024.

It will review the rental subsidies again closer to March 2024.

As for the tenants at blocks 47, 48 and 49 Tanglin Halt Road, HDB is providing them with a 50 per cent rental rebate for the rest of their tenancy term till March 2027, on top of a $60,000 ex-gratia payment and a $30,000 relocation assistance benefit, to help with any eventual move.

Tenants who successfully tender for HDB shops elsewhere will also be granted a 10 per cent rental discount, HDB added.


People familiar with Tanglin Halt said they missed aspects of the town but acknowledged that the upgrades were necessary.

Madam Lee Lee Choo, 63, who has been working in Tanglin Halt for 14 years, said the estate’s renewal is a “good sign” and she looks forward to the new developments there. Even so, the clinic assistant said she misses the mee rebus at the former Commonwealth Drive Food Centre, and Tanglin Halt feels a bit “dead” now.

Security officer Mohd Moh, a Bukit Panjang resident who works in Tanglin Halt, said he was sad to see the demolition of the estate, adding that “most of Tanglin Halt will be gone”, including his childhood memories with his late parents at their old family flat.

Mr Jacob Chan, an 86-year-old who has been living in Tanglin Halt for 53 years, is looking forward to the improved connectivity the renewed estate will offer.

But the retired clerk, who lives at Block 90 Tanglin Halt Road, said it is “hard to watch” the demolition take place and that the estate has “lost its sense of identity”.

Mr Chan added that his friends, who have been relocated elsewhere under Sers, complained about the lack of neighbourliness in their new estates – a big difference from the lively communal spaces in the old Tanglin Halt.

Apart from the new integrated development and the recently launched Tanglin Halt Cascadia Build-To-Order project, agencies are studying detailed plans for the rest of the estate, which will be announced when ready, said HDB.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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