SINGAPORE – For 22 years, Mr Mah Hock Tiong has been serving coffee and rainbow bread at Clifford Centre to many loyal customers in the Central Business District.
Come Dec 15, the 62-year-old, who runs Bread of Tradition, will remove his apron and retire as the 29-storey retail and office building, built in 1977, is set for a makeover in 2023.
“We are sad that we are leaving but after slogging for 22 years, I think it is time to take a break for our health – so it’s bittersweet,” said Mr Mah, who runs the stall with his 55-year-old wife.
He said he tried to find another place of a similar size and with a similar rent in the CBD, but was unsuccessful.
Singapore Land Group (SingLand), which owns Clifford Centre, announced plans in May to redevelop the 999-year leasehold site in Raffles Place into about 492,000 sq ft of gross floor area (GFA) of offices and 52,000 sq ft of retail space – about 36 per cent more than its existing GFA.
Under the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Master Plan 2019, the refurbished building, which has dual frontage along Raffles Place and Collyer Quay, could reach as high as 50 storeys at a gross plot ratio of 15.
SingLand’s head of commercial Goh Poh Leng said tenants have to move out by end-2022, and the real estate firm has been working with them to find suitable spaces in its other properties.
“We have forged long-term relationships with many of our tenants and would like to thank them for their unwavering support over the years. We hope to have the opportunity to work with them again,” she added.
Mr Mah said some of his customers have asked him to move his business to a site in the vicinity, so they can continue frequenting his stall.
“Our customers’ satisfaction kept me going, even though it means waking up at 2.45am to get to the stall at 4am to prepare for the day,” he said. “But this has taken a toll on our health, and we often have whole-body aches.”
Meanwhile, other tenants have found replacement sites in the CBD.
Mr Ananda Rao, 60, who runs The Real One Teh Tarik & Indian Food, said he will be moving to the nearby CIMB Plaza on Dec 15, although it means paying a higher rent. It will be $9,500 a month, higher than the $6,000 for his stall at Clifford Centre.
“It is a bit of a stretch, but I will take it as a challenge and I will work to expand my customer base,” he said, adding that his rent was reduced for 2022 in the light of the redevelopment.
“Rent is very reasonable here – it has increased only marginally over the past 10 years. The management is very good compared with other places.”
Business has returned at his ground-floor stall, although it is still about 15 per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels, said Mr Ananda.
“I am sad that I have to move since business is just starting to pick up, and this is a good location with lots of human traffic. My new stall at CIMB Plaza is on the second storey, so it might be a bit difficult.”
The owner of stationery shop Superlink, Mr Ong Keh Beng, 68, said he will be moving to The Arcade at the end of the year, where rent is cheaper.
“My stationery shop serves as a hobby place for me to buy and sell antiques, so it does not really matter where I move to. But I am lucky I found a new place just next door,” he added.
Others have not been as lucky.
One tenant, who wanted to be known only as Mr Des, 63, said he may be closing his tailor shop as rental elsewhere is too high. “I may have to close for good if I cannot find a right place by the end of the year. After 20 years here, I am leaving with a heavy heart, but it was worthwhile as I have had many loyal customers over the years,” he said.
Financial consultant Pearl Tan, 33, said she frequents Clifford Centre for its affordable food and drinks, even though her office is about a 10-minute walk away.
“It’s a pity it is closing down. Sure, I can get cheap kopi at a foodcourt, but it won’t be the same,” she added. “I can only hope the stalls will come back when the new building is ready – if my office is still here then.”
Mr Mah said he will not rule out reopening his stall, but he hopes to spend more quality time with his wife and three adult children first.
“I will definitely miss our customers. After all, we have remembered their regular orders for so many years. If an opportunity arises, I think we will take it.”