Melissa Kok – Straits Times Indonesia
Singapore. About 16 months ago, a shophouse in Little India was up for lease. One couple, both IT professionals, quit their jobs to take a chance on it.
Renganathan Ramakrishnan, 37, and his wife Vanitha, 30, are thrilled that their ladies’ fashion shop Vanitha’s Enterprises is now doing well.
The couple, originally from India, have been permanent residents since 2007. They opened their shop along Campbell Road in October 2009.
The Renganathans and other newcomers are part and parcel of Little India’s new business boom. The new kids on the block go into such trades as textiles and clothing, restaurants and provision shops.
As a result, there has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of shops and restaurants there in the past five years, said Rajakumar Chandra, chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association (Lisha).
This boom has been mainly fueled by the growing Indian community, driven by the recent influx of Indian expatriates and foreign workers, noted Chandra.
While the other races and tourists throng Little India too, he felt that the critical mass came from the Indians. “Every Indian has to visit Little India once a week. To get good Indian food, to visit the temples, to buy grocery items imported from India, they have to come here.”
Over the years, Singapore has seen its foreign population grow from 1.18 million in 2005, to 1.85 million as of last year.
The figures do not give a breakdown by nationalities, but experts believe a good number of these foreigners are from India.
Ethnic Indians now make up 9.2 per cent of Singapore’s total resident population, up from 7.9 per cent in 2000.
Chandra estimates that around 100,000 Indians now visit Little India every week to shop and eat, and another 50,000 Indian foreign workers head there on Sundays.
There are now some 700 shops and restaurants in the area – from Buffalo Road to Syed Alwi Road. The majority are family-run businesses or sole proprietorships. They include more than 150 restaurants and 70 goldsmiths.
An increasing number of these businesses are owned by Indian permanent residents like the Renganathans, said Chandra.
“These PRs, who came here first to work as professionals, are finding it lucrative to open their own business. Some even cater specifically to other Indian expats and PRs,” he said.
For example, with the majority of Indian expats being vegetarian, he has noticed more vegetarian restaurants opening in the past two years.
But the entry of more new businesses, plus the burgeoning Indian community and more expats in the area, have also led to an increase in rental prices for commercial space.
Global Property Strategic Alliance chief executive Jeffrey Hong said rentals for single and double-story shophouse units in the area have gone up by 20 to 30 per cent in the past two years.
For shops such as Dakshaini Silks, a 20-year-old textiles store that also offers tailoring services, more newcomers means more competition.
Singaporean Jamuna Rani, 48, the shop’s service manager, said: “Last time, there was no competition, but now, there are so many shopkeepers selling the same things.
“We have to continue to upgrade ourselves and offer better service to customers to stay ahead.”
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 2553 5055.