Heritage hawkers determined to preserve legacy amid Covid-19 challenge

This article is more than 12 months old

Their businesses may have been threatened by the pandemic, but they press on with takeaways, deliveries and going online

The Covid-19 pandemic is threatening not only the earnings of hawkers in Singapore, but the legacy of stalls that have been around for decades and have not onboarded online food delivery platforms.

Ms Nabilah Syahirah Soip, whose family has been running Family Muslim Food Stall at Clementi Avenue 2 Market and Food Centre for 42 years, told The New Paper: "This is the worst thing that has hit our stall. It really affects our livelihood."

The 29-year-old third-generation hawker works alongside her 64-year-old mother and two sisters.

The stall, which began as a pushcart by her grandfather, had to shut even before the circuit breaker due to upgrading works at the market that started in early March.

With the estimated completion date extended twice to June 23, she feels they may be able to reopen only in early July.

Ms Nabilah said: "This will all result in losses, and if we can't keep up, we may have to cease operations. It will be a waste to let the business go."

To make ends meet, she started home-based business, JalilahsCorner, and makes deliveries thrice a week of Family Muslim Food Stall's regular dishes such as mee soto, nasi rawon and nasi sambal goreng.

She said: "I could get up to $7,000 monthly, but now if I try to make $2,000, it is difficult... The circuit breaker really came at an unlucky timing. The upgrading was due in April, then Covid happened."

For now, Ms Nabilah - who has received rental waivers for March and last month - is publicising the stall to new customers on Facebook and Instagram as she worries that people will forget about it and look elsewhere.

The ban on dining in since April 7 has also put Mr Lim Wee Huat's fried oyster omelette stall, Lim's Fried Oyster, in jeopardy.

The mainstay at Berseh Food Centre in Jalan Besar since 1977 has suffered a 60 per cent drop in business over the last five weeks. Mr Lim, 68, told TNP: "This is a new challenge. Even Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) was not like this."

However, a three-month rental waiver from the Government, along with a surge in takeaway orders in the last two weeks, has kept him afloat.

His two children had implored him to take a break when the circuit breaker was announced, but Mr Lim resolved to keep the stall open.

He said: "My father passed his skills to me. I need to keep it going."

Mr George Ng, 67, who has been running Katong Laksa at 307 Changi Road for 47 years after taking over from his father, is also determined to preserve his family's legacy. He said: "It is challenging, but we are managing with takeaways and we will get through this."

He also has the support of his 34-year-old son, Mr Gerald Ng, who works at a restaurant that is closed for the time being and now mans the stall with him.

The younger Mr Ng added: "This history is from my grandfather's time. It can't disappear just like that."