Everton Park: The next hipster enclave?

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 3, 2014

Nestled in a neighbourhood near the Central Business District is an area quietly becoming the next hipster enclave.

In the past few years, the Everton Park Housing Board estate has become home to coffee joints, cake shops and independent furnishing shops which have set up at its void decks.

Many have been drawn to the peaceful 50-year-old estate as it boasts rents up to a third lower than trendy areas nearby such as Tiong Bahru, Duxton and Ann Siang Hill.

The cluster of seven blocks off Neil Road is a short drive from the city, and young working adults are the main customers at its food and beverage spots such as Nylon Coffee Roasters, the Batterworks bakery and gourmet deli The Provision Shop.

One of the newest additions, which opened three weeks ago, is The Redundant Shop.

It sells a range of lifestyle products from vintage-style bicycles to stationery and bags.

Owner Watson Lee, 43, said: "Everton Park is a good area as it attracts working adults who come here for coffee and people who appreciate independent brands."

Some business owners in the area are reluctant to label it "the new Tiong Bahru", not least because of the effect it might have on rental prices.

Savills Singapore research head Alan Cheong said that Everton Park's rents are likely to go up gradually, but not at the heady rates that landlords in other areas are charging.

Monthly rates for shop spaces in trendy areas like Tiong Bahru and Ann Siang Hill can go up to $6.50 per sq ft (psf), compared to $4 to $5 psf in Everton Park.

However, Mr Cheong said: "In Singapore, rents don't stay low for too long, especially with all the activity and plans to revive Tanjong Pagar."

High overheads deterred Ms Sharryl Ng from setting up shop in Joo Chiat or Tiong Bahru. Instead, the 36-year-old launched her dessert cafe and cake shop, The Audacious Cakery, at Block 2, Everton Park, last September.

She said the area caught her eye for its "interesting mix of new and old shops" that draw more people to visit and cafe hop.

She added: "Hopefully, it will be as vibrant and interesting as Tiong Bahru, but without its high rentals."

Ms Fang Yan, 42, who opened Cozy Corner Coffee at Block 4 in April last year, said: "It is quieter than Tiong Bahru, but the rent here is not as high, and there are too many cafes there."

Just Want Coffee cafe manager Shaun Chua, 25, said Everton Park has "a nice vibe".

"It is off the grid and not saturated with coffee places and cafes," he said.

Owners of older shops in the estate do not mind the newcomers as they seem to be bringing more customers to the area.

"Everyone is selling a variety of things," said Mr Toh Poh Seek, 65, owner of Ji Xiang Confectionery, which has been serving ang ku kueh (glutinous rice cake) at Block 1, Everton Park, for 28 years.

"We are selling snacks, not coffee, so we are not affected," he said.

Business has also been unaffected at Everton Food Place, the estate's only foodcourt.

Prawn noodle stall owner Goh Seng Boon, 37, who has been there for 14 years, said: "It is better because I see more young people here, and it is more lively."

He is also on "good terms" with some cafes, he added, as he buys coffee twice a week from Nylon Coffee Roasters.

Cafe owners also visit the food centre to eat.

Ms Rachael Leong, 26, a lawyer, discovered Everton Park last month, and has already been back three times.

She calls it a "little silent sanctuary", though she added: "It seems like it is becoming the next Tiong Bahru. I hope it doesn't."

Law firm trainee Joey Pang, 31, who lives at The Pinnacle @Duxton and visits Everton Park's cafes every week, said: "At night, past 8pm, it is quite dead, unlike Tiong Bahru."

Medical social worker Lin Xueming, 25, who lives in an Everton Road shophouse, finds the air-conditioned cafes more conducive for meetings.

But he added that older residents keep their distance from these new outlets and prefer to spend their time at the coffee shop or nearby fitness corner.

Ms Jody Ang, 23, co-owner of cake-in-a-jar shop A Grin Affair at Block 3, chose the location in 2011 for sentimental reasons.

"I grew up here," she said. "It would be nice if this place remained quaint as it is. I wouldn't want it to change."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 3, 2014

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