Coffee shops

Forum: High rent driving stallholders away

Customers at a coffeeshop in Tampines.
Customers at a coffeeshop in Tampines.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The Housing Board should do more to regulate the rental prices at coffee shops in housing estates.

My husband and I frequent the coffee shop at Dawson Skyville. We have come to know some of the stallholders and, for us, it has become a community of sorts.

We were therefore dismayed to learn that due to the exorbitant increase in monthly rental (roughly doubled), one of the stallholders was forced to relocate.

The HDB explained to us that it was unable to interfere with individual stallholders' rentals charged by the eating house operator.

It also said it adopts a Price Quality Method tender for eating houses to consider, and if the eating house operator charges a high rental, it runs the risk of having many vacant stalls in the eating house.

The bargaining power between the eating house operator and the individual stallholders, many of whom are of average means, is patently unequal.

Rental prices, if largely left to the domain of private parties, can become unreasonable.

Many stallholders are already struggling to keep their businesses afloat, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic. I can understand the reasons for slight increases in rental but doubling it would be difficult for many stallholders to stomach.

In the long run, I worry about not only the stallholders' livelihood, but also the longevity of the small coffee shop culture. I personally enjoy many of the unique offerings that small stallholders offer.

If this issue is not addressed, I foresee that soon only the large commercial chains will be able to afford the rentals.

As a corollary to the rising rentals, stallholders would also be forced to increase the prices of their offerings to turn a profit, and these prices would undoubtedly be passed on to consumers.

I have observed that besides the stallholder who had to relocate, two other stallholders have also moved out.

It would truly be a shame if this significant part of our culture were eroded due to rising costs.

Surely, more can be done to tame the invisible hand of market forces.

Samantha Lim Li Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2021, with the headline 'High rent driving stallholders away'. Subscribe