Shops take hit as sales drop in wake of new rules

Liquor sales have fallen by as much as 50 per cent for some retailers in the wake of April's alcohol curbs, especially for those in Geylang, where the restrictions are stricter.

Both Geylang and Little India have been deemed Liquor Control Zones where takeway alcohol sales are barred from 7pm on weekends, the eve of public holidays and holidays - earlier than the 10.30pm cutoff everywhere else.

But Saturday evenings are when sales are supposed to peak, as many foreign workers spend the night out ahead of their Sunday day off.

"Some customers can get very adamant. A few weeks ago, I had four to five of them arguing with me because I could not sell alcohol to them."

MR MOHAMED ASHIR, general manager of provision shop Aaisha Layaan Enterprise

Eight Geylang retailers told The Sunday Times that over the last few months, sales of alcohol have plummeted by at least 40 to 50 per cent. For one shop, this has meant losing tens of thousands of dollars in monthly liquor sales.

For some, the curbs have cost them at least a fifth of total sales, as customers who bought snacks and daily necessities, along with their drinks, are staying away.

M.R Provisions is cutting staff from three to two.

Said its manager Ramesh Chockalingam: "By the time workers finish work on Saturday, they reach Geylang after 7pm. It would be good if we can sell up to 10.30pm on Saturdays."

Having to deal with some angry customers is another issue - even after shops lock their drinks refrigerators or cover beer bottles on shelves.

Mr Mohamed Ashir, the general manager of provision shop Aaisha Layaan Enterprise, said: "Some customers can get very adamant. A few weeks ago, I had four to five of them arguing with me because I could not sell alcohol to them."

"From next month, we plan to close at 7pm on Saturdays. We depend mainly on liquor sales so there is no point opening if we can't sell."

Shops in Little India had more time to deal with the drop in sales. Similar curbs were put in place in the wake of the December 2013 riot there. But it has not been easy.

Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association chairman Rajakumar Chandra said that over the last year, business has fallen by about 70 per cent for many provision shops, which depend mainly on liquor sales.

This has worsened by another 20 per cent since April as they can no longer sell alcohol after 10.30pm on weekdays.

He said: "It has gotten very quiet on weekdays now. A lot of businesses are changing their products to non-alcohol provisions."

Convenience store and supermarket chains have also taken a hit. Alcohol sales at 7-Eleven outlets in Geylang, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay, in April and last month have fallen by about 40 per cent compared to last year.

Cheers said that its outlets in the three areas have seen a 30 per cent drop. For Sheng Siong's outlet in Geylang, the figure was put at 12 per cent.

And the fall in business is not just restricted to these areas. Alcohol sales have dropped by a third at 7-Eleven outlets around Singapore. Operating hours have had to be tweaked, with 10 outlets now closing at 11pm as it was "no longer financially viable" to keep them open, said 7-Eleven's chief operating officer Steven Lye.

"The new restrictions have not only impacted operations at hot spots, but across all outlets in Singapore, even though the stores had no notable liquor-related concerns in the past... This has placed financial stress, especially on our franchisees."

Coffee shops, in particular those in Geylang, have been making losses of about 40 per cent, according to Mr Hong Poh Hin, the vice-chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association.

"Many coffee shops in Geylang have outdoor tables, where public drinking is not allowed after 10.30pm. If there is no place for them to drink, customers won't come."

cherylw@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Shops take hit as sales drop in wake of new rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe