Monday, November 19, 2007

Tanglin Village, things appear to be heating up for businesses there.

VILLAGE life can be factious and territorial.

With new developments popping up in Tanglin Village, things appear to be heating up for businesses there.

Six new food, education and apparel shops are opening in stages in the buildings previously occupied by the Civil Service Club, now called Dempsey Hill Green.

This follows hot on the heels of the 16 restaurant and retail stores that opened in Dempsey Hill in July. Both are managed by Country City Investment.

Bids have also poured in for two more plots of land in Tanglin Village, released recently by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which manages the area.

The winning bidders will add even more competition to the once-sleepy area. Currently, the biggest leaseholders are Country City Investment and Tanglin Warehouse. The latter sublets to several furniture shops and The Wine Company wine bar. Other establishments in the Village, such as Oosh and PS Cafe, rent direct from the SLA.

With restaurants and shops opening one after another, the old army barracks dotting the Village are now more than 70 per cent occupied.

And not everyone is happy with how this latest lifestyle magnet is pulling in all-day traffic and crowds on weekends. Ironically, some of the unhappy ones are the very customers who are bringing buzz to the place.

Ms Sally Kong, 51, a senior manager at the National Organ Transplant Unit, says she likes the idea of having more options but adds that ’service at some outlets is not as friendly’ now.

For Ms Ida Li, 27, an executive assistant, the place has lost its ‘quaint, laid-back village feel’.

She says: ‘The high flow of cars into Tanglin Village often leaves me scrambling for parking lots.’

In fact, not enough carpark lots is a common complaint. Housewife Marianna Fossick, 40, who dines at the Village weekly, says ‘more needs to be done about the parking congestion, which can be a downer’.

There are some 160 parking lots in Dempsey Hill and more than 20 in Dempsey Hill Green.

Mr Nicholas Ng, 28, general manager of Country City, which manages both clusters, says the company is liaising with the authorities in hopes of increasing the number of parking spaces in Dempsey Hill Green.

But things are not just heating up for visitors to the Village, who have to jostle for everything from parking space to seats at restaurant tables and space along grocery aisles.

With more businesses opening up there, things are also getting competitive among operators of food and retail outlets who were there previously, and the newcomers.

Existing operators say the influx of activities has not brought better business.

Owner of furniture store Pasardina Bob Hoe, 42, says visitors are mostly there to eat and to chill out, so his business has not benefited significantly from the increase in traffic.

Mr Mohammad Ali, 41, store manager of the carpet shop Jehan Gallery, chimes in: ‘The place has become so crowded on weekends that my customers now can’t park their cars nearby to load the carpets they’ve bought.’

For owners of the newer food and beverage outlets, the increase in players has been greeted with caution.

Owner of Mexican restaurant Margarita’s, Mr Andy Yap, 47, which opened in July, says his business has remained consistent. He does not see the increase in F&B players as a bad thing.

He says: ‘Should customers not be able to secure seats at another restaurant and if we have vacant tables, there’s a chance they might come over.’

Older players are not so sanguine.

Mr Thomas Teo, in his 60s, managing director of the five-year-old Wine Network, says his business has ‘reached a plateau in the last 12 months’ due to competition. To stay ahead of the game, he has expanded the wine list by some 30 per cent to around 200 labels.

He says: ‘We were one of the pioneers who started the new range of F&B activities here. People soon caught on to the Village as an ideal place for an F&B hub and now, there’s a hive of activity.’

He says the challenge for existing operators would be ‘reinvention to stay relevant to customer needs’.

Over at Oosh, for example, which opened last year, a new brunch menu is being launched today.

Its marketing manager, Mr Lee Kian Seng, 30, says part of the restaurant’s business development plan has always been to introduce new offerings at different stages of its growth.

The new kids on the block, however, believe in the lasting allure of Tanglin Village as a hip hot spot.

Mr Ernest Ng, 52, owner of the new microbrewery Red Dot BrewHouse, slated to open in Dempsey Hill Green at the end of next month, says: ‘Unlike Holland Village, which is largely a nightlife establishment, Tanglin Village has a good mix of tenants that draw all-day traffic to the area. This makes it a lifestyle destination.’

Freelance F&B consultant, Mr Vincent Gabriel, 66, says the area has built for itself a reputation as an F&B enclave with good food and ambience and its proximity to the city is a definite plus.

‘But it needs to watch out for the traffic congestion in the area. Insufficient parking can really put people off and cause the Village to become a victim of its own success.’

Source : Sunday Times - 18 Nov 2007

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