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Meet the people behind three shops in HDB’s Top 50 Favourite Shops poll

In December, the HDB announced the winners of its Top 50 Favourite Shops contest. The contest, organised as part of Singapore's Golden Jubilee celebrations, was for residents to recognise their favourite neighbourhood shops. More than 1,000 HDB merchants were eligible. From July to October, more than 8,000 people voted for their favourites. The Sunday Times speaks to three of the winners and their customers

Tailored for the right business


Mr Allan Yam and Ms Connie Wong, owners of L.A. Fashion in Joo Chiat Complex. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

L.A. FASHION

Address: 03-1031 Joo Chiat Complex, Block 1 Joo Chiat Road

Tel: 6744-8003

Open: 11.30am to 7.30pm, Monday to Saturday This Malay clothing retailer and tailor, open since 2007, is run by a Chinese couple.

Ms Connie Wong, 45, tailors Malay clothes such as baju kurung, baju pahang and long dresses. Her husband, former finance analyst Allan Yam, 41, joined the business in 2014.

They choose to specialise in Malay clothes because they feel it is a niche market. Ms Wong also has more than 20 years of experience creating such clothes using materials such as linen, satin and chiffon, mostly from local suppliers.

Their customers include teenagers, the elderly and families. During the Hari Raya Puasa season, their shop can have up to 200 customers daily.

Ms Wong, a Malaysian, speaks fluent Malay and Mr Yam, a Singaporean, is learning the language.

He says: "I have a list of commonly used Malay phrases saved in my phone, so I can refer to them if I need to."

One of the customers who voted for them is Madam Aseh Supa'at, 61.

The school attendant was introduced to the shop two years ago by a friend and she had two pink and orange baju kurung made for herself.

Since then, the Tampines resident has had another eight pieces made, paying $120 to more than $400.

She says: "The shop is near my home and they know how to make clothes that fit my size and shape. I feel comfortable here and we can chat about anything."

During her niece's wedding last September, she got her three younger sisters, aged 48, 46 and 43, to tailor matching turquoise outfits at the shop.

Ms Wong and Mr Yam have two sons, aged 11 and eight, and a daughter, five. They live in a five-room HDB flat in Punggol.

Ms Wong says of their win in the HDB contest: "Although winning is good, understanding our customers and Malay culture in general has been an even bigger reward for us."


Barber with a personal touch


Mr Shukri Rahmat, owner of barber shop Barber Point at Rivervale Plaza, and his regular customer Muhammad Adli, 23, a full-time national serviceman. ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

BARBER POINT

Address: 01-12 Rivervale Plaza, 118 Rivervale Drive

Open: 10am to 9pm daily

Open since 1997, this barber shop has seen its customers grow from boys to men.

According to owner Shukri Rahmat, 62, it is his personal touch that keeps customers coming back.

"Whenever I see them leave with a smile, it gives me satisfaction."

The son of an army regular and housewife, he first started working in a barber shop at age 15.

Two of his uncles are barbers and he worked at their shops for more than 25 years before striking out on his own with a shop in Woodlands in 1995. This shop is still in operation.

Two years later, he opened the Rivervale Plaza outlet. It now has six employees.

He is married to a housewife and they live in a five-room HDB flat in Marsiling.

His customers are men, mostly living nearby, who pay $12 for a standard haircut. About 30 to 50 go to the shop each day.

Says regular customer Muhammad Adli, 23, a full-time national serviceman: "A friend recommended me to come here three years ago.

"I like how the staff are friendly and know how to cut my hair. So now, I'm the one recommending friends to come here."

Another regular, sales executive H.M. Wang, 45, lives in Sengkang and has been frequenting the shop since it opened.

He says: "It's convenient because I live nearby. The service is good and the staff never fail to ask me how my day has been and if I have had my dinner."

Although the rise of several cheap and quick haircut services in recent years have eaten into Mr Shukri's profits, he says the competition pushes him to be more accommodating to his customers.

"Because our haircuts last 15 to 20 minutes, we can take more time to make sure the customer is satisfied."

Some customers who go for quick services end up with haircuts that they do not like, he says.

"So in the end, they come here to get their hair fixed."


Picking up baking skills in Japan


Mr Tony Tan took over the family business in 1983. His shop is famous for cheese pineapple tarts. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

AMETHYST PASTRY & CAKES

Address: 02-04 Greenridge Shopping Centre, Block 524A Jelapang Road

Tel: 6759-2338

Open: 7am to 10pm daily

This Hainanese bakery, which has been at its current location since 1999, is famous for Chinese New Year goodies such as cheese pineapple tarts.

It is also popular for its creative mooncakes, such as Hainanese fusion mooncakes and sugar-free white lotus walnut mooncakes.

Owned by Mr Tony Tan, 64, and his wife, Madam Rosalind Ong, 63, the shop has about 300 customers daily. Every year, it sells more than 7,000 boxes of pineapple tarts and more than 10,000 mooncakes.

Mr Tan's late father, Mr Tan Keng Siong, founded the former Jong Seng Tan Kee Bakery, which sold bread and biscuits, in Bukit Timah in 1953.

In 1983, the younger Mr Tan took over the family business and went to Japan for three months to improve on his father's recipes and learn more bread-making techniques.

Since his return, the shop has introduced new products to set it apart from its competitors, such as Hainanese mooncakes in the 1980s.

In 1994, he opened the bakery under its current name in Yishun and later moved it to its current location.

Says Mr Tan, who lives with Madam Ong in a private apartment in Yio Chu Kang: "We chose this location because the rent was low. When we started here, business was tough.

"But we kept our prices and costs low and soon built a customer base here."

The couple have a daughter, 31, who is a project manager at a local university.

Mr Tan has more than 10 staff members working for him, but still visits the store almost every day.

Madam Cybill Toh, 48, has been buying bread there every other day for the last two years.

The housewife, who lives in a five-room flat nearby, and is married with a daughter, 16, and son, 13, says: "My kids like the wholemeal bread and white bread.

"Both are perfect for making toast and open-face sandwiches. The filling in the buns is also not too sweet.

"Even though Bukit Panjang Plaza is nearer my home, I still prefer walking 10 minutes here to buy the bread."

•The full list of winners can be found at www.where2shop.sg/fi10/fi10334p.nsf/w/ShopperTop50FavouriteShops

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline 'Residents' favourite HDB shops'. Print Edition | Subscribe