Street View: Traditional shops and modern stops

Rangoon Road's mix of old and new has something to offer to everyone

RANGOON Road is a sleepy stretch of shophouses, traditional eateries and car workshops.

But the area, which lies between Farrer Park MRT station and the Central Expressway, is waking up to a shot of innovative cafes and upscale shoebox apartments, bringing with them a modern vibe.

Now, visitors can lunch on bak kut teh before enjoying espressos and unique ice cream flavours a few steps away.

There is LifeCycle, a cafe which also sells bicycles and cycling equipment.

Liberty Coffee, another cafe, opens only on certain days, depending on its roasting schedule.

"This laid-back vibe to the area appeals to us," said co-owner Pauline Tan, 42. "To us, Rangoon Road feels like a real slice of Singapore."

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Jewel Cafe and Bar, which opened in March, attracts professionals from the city area.

"Our customers in this area are the ones that don't want to go back to the CBD (Central Business District) area, where they work. They want to chill out and here is perfect," said its director, Mr Adrian Khong, 43.

There is even a cooking school that hosts private parties and corporate bonding events.

"We like this place because it's modern, but also holds a lot of heritage. It's quite an eclectic mix of tenants," said Mr Kelvin Lim, 36, one of Cookyn Inc's four owners.

The 800m road remains well known for Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh Eatery House, which has been there since 1988.

Famously, the eatery refused to open for then Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang when he dropped by in the evening in 2006.

Today, busloads of tourists continue to enjoy its meat soups. But it has fresh competition.

Founder Bak Kut Teh Restaurant, originally located in Balestier Road, opened a branch in Rangoon Road two years ago.

"I like this place because the environment is not congested," said owner Chua Chui Chui, 43. "It is more peaceful than Balestier and attracts many families. Car drivers can get here easily."

Lai Huat Seafood Restaurant, which has been in Rangoon Road for 11 years, does not mind the competition, from the old or the new. "We have regular customers, so we are not too affected by the new shops," said owner Lim Poh Huat.

Tradition remains a part of Rangoon Road, with many of the older establishments still going strong.

Ng Nam Thye minimart and liquor wholesaler, which has been operating for about a century, moved there in the 1980s.

Owner Ng Beow Kee, 76, helms the store, which was founded by his grandparents.

His 50-year-old son is poised to take over.

"We intend to continue as shifting here and there is inconvenient," he said in Mandarin.

But there are other long-time tenants who feel their time is up.

Mr Robert Teo, 73, who has been selling Suzuki motorcycles there for about 30 years, intends to move to the Kaki Bukit industrial estate within the next decade.

"At the start, shophouses in Rangoon Road had shops downstairs and residences upstairs. The residences were the first to move out, to be replaced by offices upstairs.

"Now, shoebox apartments are about to take over the shophouses," he said.

"Change has to come. It's a waste not to develop this place. It makes better business sense to do our motorcycle business elsewhere."

Development comes with a small price.

Mr Chiranjeevi Viswanathan, 33, a shop assistant at Saravana Stores, complained about the noise generated by the construction of a new building across the street.

The store's business has also dropped after the bus stop that used to be right in front was moved. "Commuters no longer stop by for a drink after alighting," said fellow shop assistant Bhanumathi Umashankar, 35.

Despite the transition to modernity, the area still retains a sense of history.

Retiree Chin Chiew Toon has been living in Block 52, which is a street away from Rangoon Road, for the past 32 years. Said the 63-year-old: "There have been so many changes in this area in 30 years, but it still feels peaceful."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 10, 2013