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Bazaar and pasar malam vendors grapple with soaring costs and logistics woes

In her first week selling traditional and casual outfits for women and children at the Wisma Geylang Serai bazaar, Ms Ereen had to display older collections of clothes as new stock had not arrived from Malaysia.

She was confirmed for a booth only about a week before April 2, the first day of the festive fair.

Compounded by slower shipments due to the ongoing global supply chain disruption, she currently has only 50 to 60 per cent of the apparel needed to stock her booth.

Ms Ereen, who declined to reveal her full name, said her first batch of new stock arrived only late last week.

Business is also slower than in the years before the pandemic, said the Ramadan bazaar regular.

"Two weeks in, business at our stall, Truffles&Cookie, has seen a drop of 40 per cent compared with the same period in previous years. But we are optimistic about this long (Good Friday and Easter) weekend," she said.

While vendors are relieved that bazaars have made a return after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, stallholders have been grappling to keep their businesses optimal, amid supply chain woes, higher rents and increased food and oil prices.

Some vendors also said they had to rush to set up their booths and secure equipment and supplies, as their bids for stall space were confirmed only a week before the bazaars opened.

According to government procurement portal GeBiz, the People's Association awarded the tender for the running of the Geylang Serai bazaar to the organiser, Orange Travel, on March 23 - less than two weeks before the bazaar's start.

At the Ang Mo Kio Central pasar malam (night market), Ramly burger stall owner Zain Abdul Rahin said his booth was confirmed only two days before the night market opened on April 9. It was a rush for him to secure key items like patties and buns.

Previously, stalls would have a month's lead time to prepare, he added.

The Original Vadai is one of the more popular food stalls at the Geylang Serai bazaar, with snaking queues and some of its snacks getting sold out early.

Still, its director Stephen Suriyah said margins have been hit by soaring oil and flour prices. Ingredient prices have surged worldwide due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

"In 2021, I used to buy a tin of cooking oil for $21. Today, the same cooking oil costs up to $52. Cooking oil is one of our highest used raw materials, and we use at least 150 tins a week.

"We have to increase food prices slightly just to stay afloat and earn a little," he said, adding that he had to raise the price of his snacks such as the popular prawn vadai by 50 per cent.

Close to 100,000 people have visited the Geylang Serai bazaar, said the fair's organiser Wisma Geylang Serai on Thursday.

The bazaar was also expanded on Thursday by 30 more booths, bringing the total number of stalls to 70.

Stall owners have also been grappling with high rent.

Ms Ereen said rent for lifestyle stalls like hers are currently between $7,000 and $9,000, while the rent before was $1,000 to $2,000 lower.

Rental for each stall has also gone up - from $14,000 in 2019 to $20,000 this year, The Sunday Times understands. Mr Zain's rent at Ang Mo Kio pasar malam was also $20,000.

Ms Indah Nabielah, owner of beef ribs and steak shop T Bob's Corner at the Geylang Serai bazaar said: "The organisers told us the cost of everything went up too, such as diesel for generators and tentage costs. And more security, barriers and ushers are needed for crowd control."

Mr Hamzah Abdullah, owner of John Jee - a new entrant selling roti john and finger food at the Kampong Glam Bazaar - noted that the booth rents are on the higher side this year, while egg prices have risen due to inflation. But he still decided to set up a stall to promote his brand.

"The Kampong Glam Bazaar is located at the heart of Singapore where the crowd consists of different races, and it is good exposure for us."

As at Thursday (April 14), six temporary fair permits have been approved, said the Singapore Food Agency.

This includes the Kampong Glam bazaar, and pasar malams at Ang Mo Kio Central and Clementi Central.

A new bazaar set up on a field next to Woodlands MRT station started operations on Friday, and will run till May 2.

On Friday evening, snaking queues extended out of the large white tentage as customers waited to get hold of pasar malam staples such as ramly burgers, vadai and otah.

Carnival games, a durian stall and shops selling clothes, household items and accessories were also housed in the market. Mini carnival rides were being set up on the field next to the tent.

Before the pandemic hit, Syafiqah Amir, 16, said her family would make yearly trips to Johor Baru's Pasar Karat bazaar during Ramadan to stock up on food, Malay kueh and cosmetics.

All their passports had expired, but they have no immediate plans to renew it, said Syafiqah, who was waiting in line for apam balik (pancake with ground peanut) at the bazaar.

This Ramadan, her family will continue visiting Geylang Serai and some of the heartland pasar malams to get into the festive spirit, she said.

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