Two months after its originally scheduled opening, Chinatown Food Street finally unveiled its $5 million facelift yesterday.
Hawkers were in high spirits as they served local favourites to a steady stream of customers under a new glass shelter, with special fans keeping the atmosphere cool.
There is double the variety now with 24 hawker stalls and six shophouse restaurants. And the entire stretch is closed to road traffic permanently as well, instead of from 6pm to 11pm previously.
"I have been waiting to open for so long, after two or three false starts," said a relieved Mr Eddee Peh, 44, who operates Chinatown Cheng Kee Hokkien Mee.
Stall owners had complained about plummeting business at their temporary locations since the street closed for renovations last May.
"I need the footfall you can only get in Chinatown."
The revitalised 100m stretch along Smith Street was supposed to be ready by last year's end, but building complications, the rainy season and the Chinese New Year crowd slowed things down.
Operator Select Group was finally granted its Temporary Occupation Permit on Friday evening.
Said its executive director Jack Tan: "I'm glad that there's been a great crowd so far despite not making any formal announcement about our opening. I think we can look forward to enough business that will make up for the delay."
Before the renovation, the lack of shelter meant a drop in business on rainy days. "That's why we invested almost $3 million in the glass shelter," said Mr Tan.
But tenants must get used to the higher rent. Previously, they paid about $4,000 a month for a stall. Now, this has jumped to $6,000.
They also have to fork out about $30,000 to cover their share of the facelift, the cost of which went up from an initial $4 million to $5 million because of the delay.
"If we can get consistent business like we have seen today, then the higher costs are manageable," said Joo Chiat Ang Moh Noodle House's chef Ho Kok Choi, who sold about 80 bowls within the first hour of opening. "But if we don't, that's when trouble starts."
Mr Tan hopes that more publicity and planned tie-ups with tour agencies will see about 6,000 to 8,000 diners in the area daily. The refurbished food street seats around 700, compared to 400 before.
If customers feel as heartened about the street's revamp as information technology security manager Tan Chee Horng, then hawkers may have less to worry about.
"The food here has always been not too bad. There's more variety now and it's in a good location," said the 45-year-old. "I'm glad there's one more dining option for me."