Business has been slow at the Geylang Serai bazaar, a traditional haunt in the run-up to Hari Raya Puasa, due to competition from newer bazaars in Tampines and at the Singapore Expo.
Several stallholders at the Geylang Serai open-air market, which draws to a close on Wednesday, said the crowds are about half that of last year. At least one complained of not being able to cover rental costs.
However, footfall at the bazaar picked up over the weekend, the last before the festival. When The Straits Times visited last Saturday evening, the main walkways were so packed that shoppers had to inch forward in single file to get from one end to the other.
The Ramadan bazaar stretches from the area in front of the Singapore Post Centre to an open field along Sims Avenue and down to Haig Road. Shop owners, who sell everything from Ramly burgers and kebabs to traditional clothing, carpets and homeware, anticipate that sales will peak just before the bazaar closes in two days' time.
In anticipation of a good showing at the bazaar this year, Ms Luvreena Shereen, 29, leased six stalls there providing henna services, up from four stalls last year. The intricate hand decorations are popular with Malay women when they visit one another during the Hari Raya festivities.
But slow foot traffic since the bazaar opened on July 10 has made her regret her decision.
She said: "Crowds at the bazaar are not even half that of last year. People used to be queueing up for henna but not this time. We have not covered our rental costs yet. Business started picking up only last Friday."
Ms Luvreena's family has been setting up stalls at the bazaar for the past 26 years. Her grandmother, Madam Janet Mastan, 77, said: "It used to be very lively here, but there are too many new bazaars now like in Tampines. Last time, everyone would come here."
The bazaar in Geylang Serai is considered one of the grand dames of Ramadan bazaars here. It dates back to the 1970s and has more than 1,700 stalls.
Mr Fadhil Abdat, 32, co-owner of Brooches SG, has been running shops at the Geylang Serai bazaar for the past four years. He opened three shops there selling fashion accessories this year.
He said: "Business picked up slower compared to last year but people are warming up and things have gotten extremely busy." Shops at the bazaar are known to offer discounts of up to 40 per cent in the days leading up to the end of Ramadan.
Some regulars were at the Geylang Serai bazaar last Saturday to do last-minute shopping. One of them was Ms Nur Syahidah Abdul Rahim, 21, an administrative executive who bought decorative table cloths and cushions.
Another regular, student Yasmin Sim, 22, was getting henna done on her hands. She said: "It is a must to come here every year, there are so many things to see."