SINGAPORE - Almost two weeks after the Geylang Serai Ramadan bazaar restarted in full force for the first time since 2019, a litany of complaints from stallholders worried about high rents, low visitorship and steep competition has emerged.
Rents have skyrocketed to an eye-watering $24,000 for some kebab stalls, while other stall owners have tussled with organisers, with one even making a police report after the wire providing electricity to his stall was cut abruptly.
Mr Mohamad Haikel Suhaimi, 35, runs Ramly burger stall Original Taste From Malaysia in a tent behind Tanjong Katong Complex. While he paid $16,000 to rent one stall, another Ramly burger seller in the tent paid $20,000 each for four stalls.
“For the past four days, (the organisers) have been coming to the shop to tell us to change the signage (to not show Ramly burgers) and they even threatened to close my shop by bringing down the management from Wisma Geylang Serai with two security guards,” said Mr Haikel, speaking to the The Straits Times on the first day of Ramadan (March 23).
Wisma Geylang Serai is the social and cultural heritage hub in Geylang Serai led by the People’s Association.
“My agreement didn’t state that I cannot sell Ramly burgers so I’ve just continued to sell,” he said.
In the signed agreement between the stall and the organisers seen by The Straits Times, thereis no clause stating what kind of food type vendors are supposed to sell.
His girlfriend, who runs the stall with him, also made a police report after they lost power in the stall and realised that the wire connected to their stall’s power points had been severed on March 19.
ST contacted the organisers last week to address the stallholders’ concerns. The consortium that runs the bazaar has yet to reply.
Wisma Geylang Serai did not address the issues in its reply dated Monday, saying only: “With the rental price ranging from $2,000 to $19,000 as announced earlier by the winning bazaar operator, the bazaar received a healthy response from business vendors with the take up rates now stands at 95 per cent of F&B booths and 80 per cent in Retail.
“Traditionally, as per the past years, more stalls will be taken up within the next few weeks into Ramadan. Also, several vendors would only open their stalls later part of the fasting month as the due to the relevancy of their products.”
This year’s bazaar, the longest-running one at 36 days, is run by a consortium of operators. It began on March 17 to coincide with the Hari Raya light-up in Geylang Serai, and will run until April 21. Hari Raya Puasa, which marks the end of the fasting month, falls on April 22.
Other stall holders also said they have had to face high rents and had received promises by organisers to be the exclusive sellers of a certain food type in a tent.
Rents for several stall holders have also exceeded $20,000, despite the bazaar operator earlier saying that the rent for food and beverage stalls would go up to a maximum of $19,000.
Pasha Turkish Kebab owner Amr Elgoharoi said he was promised exclusivity to run a kebab stall in the tent next to Onan Road if he paid $24,000.
He said that was the only reason he was willing to pay a premium. However, another kebab shop has popped up less than 50m from his stall. Prices for kebabs at both stalls start from $5.
“They (organisers) told me I would be the only kebab vendor here but... another operator has shown up,” said Mr Amr, who has had a stall at the bazaar for the last 10 years.
“I’m worried that I can’t make back (the money I put in now), I regret it.”
The other kebab seller in the tent, The Botak BBQ & Grill, was also quoted rental of $24,000 and also told verbally that there would be no other kebab seller there.
Stall owner Mahmoud Wagih, 45, who has been running a kebab stall at the bazaar since 2007, said: “This bazaar is for all Singaporeans to do business, not to kill each other (with competition)... this year we can only hope we can make a profit, pray for us.”
Other stall holders are concerned that they will not be able to recoup their investment. Besides the stall rental fees, they also have to pay additional costs to rent power points, sinks, lights and tables from the organisers.
“With the manpower and additional costs for electrical points and lights rental, this year I’m spending around $100,000 altogether,” said Nenda’s Fritters operations manager Muhd Ridzuan Senin.
The vendor, which mainly sells Ramly burgers, has been part of the bazaar for the past 15 years. His Ramly burgers cost around $5.
He said business this year has been mixed so far.
“Usually the queues for Ramly burger and kebabs are so long but this year is quite quiet...maybe because a lot of people are breaking fast at home,” said Mr Ridzuan.
“Hopefully the crowd will pick up.”
Others like Satay Ummi owner Lydia Izzati, 31, said she is not too worried about recuperating her investment of $15,000. Her satay goreng ranges in price from $10 to $13 a box, depending on the type of meat ordered.
This is her first time renting the space for a whole month. In previous years, she rented a stall at the bazaar for only seven to 10 days.
“Many stallholders are worried about whether we can break even, but as long as the brand is good, the product is good, people will definitely come... there is spending power in the community, people are willing to pay,” said Ms Lydia.
In a media release on Friday, Wisma Geylang Serai said that more than 200,000 people had visited the bazaar in its first week of operations.
This year, there are some 700 stall spaces available. Wisma Geylang Serai added that 95 per cent of F&B booths and 80 per cent of retail booths have been filled so far.
Home-based businesses have also been brought in this year via a flea market concept behind Tanjong Katong Complex, offering vendors far more affordable rental of $2,000 for 36 days, or $55 a day.
Consumers ST spoke to said that they are feeling the pinch this year.
“So far the increase has been around $2 or $3...I used to pay $3.50 or $4 for Ramly burger,” said Ms Nurul Asyiqin, 24, who was heavily pregnant.
“But I still wanted to come out because I had a craving for vadai and satay...I’m going into labour soon,” added Ms Nurul, who was with her 15-month-old child and husband at the stalls near Engku Aman Road.
Mr Sufiyan Samsul, 34, a freelance outdoor instructor, also noted that prices have gone up by $2 to $3.
“Prices of the food have been increasing over the years, but I just wanted to come... and soak in the atmosphere with my family,” said Mr Sufiyan, who was with his wife and four children picking up takoyaki and otak otak to bring home to feast on.
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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.