Dempsey retailers feel the pinch of slowing economy

Lexington Store owner Mette Irene Aaboe is hopeful that the new lifestyle quarter Como Dempsey and opening of a fashion store will give the area a boost. Poor retail sales at Dempsey have forced some businesses to slash their prices. Shang Antiques,
Poor retail sales at Dempsey have forced some businesses to slash their prices. Shang Antiques, for one, has reduced its prices for certain items by up to 45 per cent. The enclave is adjusting to the ebb and flow of the economy, and its impact on the high-end foreign crowd.ST PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO
Lexington Store owner Mette Irene Aaboe is hopeful that the new lifestyle quarter Como Dempsey and opening of a fashion store will give the area a boost. Poor retail sales at Dempsey have forced some businesses to slash their prices. Shang Antiques,
Lexington Store owner Mette Irene Aaboe is hopeful that the new lifestyle quarter Como Dempsey and opening of a fashion store will give the area a boost.ST PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO

Slowing economy's impact on foreigners hurting expat-reliant enclave

Expatriates are the denizens of Dempsey and when their wallets are lighter, it can give retailers there a headache.

Take furniture shop Woody Antique House, located in the trendy Tanglin Village, part of Dempsey. Sales usually pick up in the second half of the year, after the post-Christmas and Chinese New Year lull, but not last year.

"Usually our peak period is between July and December. But it didn't happen, there was no peak," said owner Ang Wei Chin.

Retailers in the expatriate enclave, offering high-end purchases such as antique furniture and hand-woven carpets, are adjusting to the ebb and flow of the economy, and its impact on the high-end foreign crowd. They tend to be the first to feel the heat from a slowing economy, whereas the food and beverage sector is more resilient, attracting a broader clientele.

Many of these upmarket retailers rely on high-spending foreigners, usually from the oil and gas sector.

DIPPING DEMAND

This is a fantastic place to do business. It's an old, charming part of Singapore, near the city but far enough to be quiet. But my business is dependent on expats and it has been dropping in the past year.

MR PETER HEDGER, owner of Hedger's Carpet Gallery

But last year, thousands of jobs were axed in the sector. And even as the overall number of expatriates in Singapore remain stable, they tend to be drawing smaller packages.

An indication of the malaise: Last December, boutique family club Tanderra Singapore, which catered largely to expats, suddenly shut down after less than two years of operation.

It had been facing losses, and it did not help that a significant proportion of its existing members left Singapore towards the end of last year, it said.

Ms Ang is feeling the heat. Takings fell by 15 to 20 per cent last year, compared to 2015. She now holds store promotions monthly, instead of twice yearly.

Over at Hedger's Carpet Gallery, sales halved last year compared to 2015. And owner Peter Hedger is thinking of downsizing his 2,500 sq ft store to 1,000 sq ft.

"This is a fantastic place to do business. It's an old, charming part of Singapore, near the city but far enough to be quiet," he said. "But my business is dependent on expats and it has been dropping in the past year."

At antique store Shang Antique, prices for certain items have been slashed by up to 45 per cent, said staff member Nguyen Van Truong, 32.

Property investment firm Country City Investment, which runs the Dempsey Hill cluster of eateries and retail outlets, said it has been helping its retail tenants market their offerings by organising media previews and advertising in magazines and on social media.

It also introduced shuttle buses that pick up visitors from Scotts Road, the Botanic Gardens and Holland Village MRT station. Events such as Christmas markets and summer markets are also held.

Ms Mette Irene Aaboe, 47, who runs the year-old Lexington Company lifestyle store, is hopeful the new lifestyle quarter Como Dempsey and the opening of multi-label fashion store Dover Street Market in July will give the area a boost.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Dempsey retailers feel the pinch'. Print Edition | Subscribe