SINGAPORE - It's been a lean few weeks for hawkers at the Chinatown Complex Food Centre but some tasty promotions this weekend have brought diners streaming in to get their fix of local fare.
It was a welcome sight for stall owners, who have seen business dip by up to 80 per cent as people stayed away from crowded places over fears of contracting Covid-19.
Many hawkers decided to take matters into their own hands, with around 130 of the 226 food stalls at the centre offering discounts.
Madam June Cheang is knocking 10 per cent off her herbal drinks while Mr Johnny Tng's Super Mummy stall is selling Hokkien mee for $4 or $6 a plate - a dollar off the usual price.
Mr Tng, 48, noted: "Business was especially bad after the Chinese New Year period, and at one point the number of customers here fell by 80 per cent."
He said the discounts have helped lift trade by 10 to 20 per cent but added that customer numbers are still only about half of a usual Saturday crowd.
There were a couple of empty tables despite the lunch crowd when The Straits Times visited between 11am and 2pm on Saturday (March 7) but the centre was far from a ghost town. There were lines at some stalls, and many families, couples and friends were seen enjoying their meals together.
Madam Connie Chan, who runs a chicken rice stall, said businesses in Chinatown have been badly affected, as the area was highly dependent on tourists, whose numbers have fallen following travel restrictions. Locals also kept away out of fear of crowded places, added Ms Chan, 49.
Regular customer Tan Zhi Hao, 40, said he visits the food centre in Smith Street about four times a week.
The gas delivery man, who works in the area, said there have been fewer customers over the past few weeks. "The discounts may help but I do believe the crowds will come back eventually even without it," he said.
The discount scheme was initiated by the Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore (FMAS), which had received feedback about poor business from the hawkers represented by the Chinatown Complex Hawker Association - a FMAS member.
FMAS also helped promote the initiative in Chinese newspapers but the costs of the discounts are being absorbed by the hawkers. FMAS plans to roll out a similar discount scheme at the People's Park Food Centre, which has also been hard hit by the outbreak.
"Other food centres in housing areas are also affected, but Chinatown seems harder hit because of the drop in tourist numbers," said FMAS president Yeo Hiang Meng.
Mr Lim Gek Meng, president of the Chinatown Complex Hawker Association, said the association was also doing its part to keep the place clean.
It has stepped up its cleaning regimes and has been disinfecting the premises once every two hours, up from once a day.
"We want our customers to have confidence in us, that we're keeping things clean, and that they can come here to relax and eat," he said.