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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Businesses gear up for Circle Line boom

Some hire more staff, revamp menus in anticipation of bigger crowds
The Straits Times - August 3, 2011
By: Jessica Lim & Royston Sim
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Businesses gear up for Circle Line boom ST PHOTO: SAMUEL HE

WHETHER it is the addition of staff or new menu items, businesses are planning to profit from the opening of the entire Circle Line in October.

Once the trains start running, it will be easier to get to places like Holland Village, Fusionopolis and Serene Centre.

Tenants in such locations now serve mostly residents in the area or those who drive.

Come October, business operators expect takings to increase by up to 30 per cent.

A Straits Times check with 30 tenants in these areas shows that eatery owners are the most optimistic.

The manager of Holland Village Food Court stall Kelong Seafood & BBQ, Mr Kim Lim, 30, will add 20 items to his menus by next month, such as salted-egg prawn.

'When the MRT opens, more people will come. We don't want to miss out on the opportunity,' said Mr Lim, who is hiring two more workers and would likely extend opening hours, from 3pm to 2am now, to 8am to 3am.

A neighbouring bar and restaurant, Three Crowns Booze & Grub, has gone the whole hog. It used to be a tapas bar, a concept its manager Siti Aishah Ramli said 'did not appeal to the masses'. It now dishes out Western food.

'With the MRT opening, we wanted something a bit more mainstream. The locals seem to prefer bigger portions and many of them take the MRT,' she said, expecting a business boost of 25 per cent.

'This also means that people can drink more because they don't have to drive. The eatery will also be doubling its variety of desserts and rolling out more promotions for beer.'

Another eatery, the 40-year-old Yee Cheong Yuen Noodle Restaurant, is hiring two more people and adding tea-time and breakfast items.

On Monday, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew announced that the final 12 stations of the Circle Line would open on Oct 8, completing the 28-station line.

Projected daily ridership is 400,000 and the line is expected to ease crowding on the heavily utilised North-South and East-West lines by 10 to 15 per cent.

At Fusionopolis, just on top of the upcoming one-north station in Ayer Rajah Avenue, buffet restaurant Penang Place's manager Jemima Ooi is eagerly counting down to October.

'We are so excited. It will help us a lot because residents in the heartland will find it much easier to get to us,' said the 23-year-old, who is opening an a la carte extension of the restaurant next month.

At Serene Centre at the junction of Farrer and Bukit Timah roads, Island Creamery owner Stanley Kwok, 57, expects to benefit from a higher number of patrons.

He added that he would wait and observe if business improves, but noted that his shop will be able to ramp up production of ice cream by 10 to 20 per cent.

Other tenants like retailers are crossing their fingers - they hope business will increase but are less sure of the outcome.

'We are hoping for a slight increase, but the customers we serve live around this area and most drive,' said Face Bistro development manager Chris Ngen, 35. Still, she said the opening of the Holland Village station would make it more convenient for her employees to get to work.

AFond Spa expects a small increase and spent $50,000 on new hair-removal equipment, hoping it will draw a crowd.

The optimism, said senior retail management lecturer Sarah Lim from Singapore Polytechnic, is not misplaced as business should increase due to greater accessibility - though it is hard to tell by how much.

She expects eateries to benefit more than retail stores, because places such as Holland Village and Serene Centre are well known as 'eating enclaves'.

However, she cautioned that it might be premature for tenants to be over-optimistic. Many people will ride the Circle Line out of curiosity when it opens fully, but businesses should wait for things to settle before gauging if demand has increased. They could hire part-time staff instead of full-timers, she suggested.

But there are no doubts for those who work in the area, like Ms Petrina Hui, 23, a waitress at a restaurant in one-north.

'I am so happy,' she said, estimating that her hour-long commute to work from Yishun will be halved.

However, at least one tenant expects business to falter - the owner of a dessert and drink stall at a foodcourt in Fusionopolis. 'Office workers here have eaten at our foodcourt for so many years. When it gets easier for them to go elsewhere, why wouldn't they?' she asked.

limjess@sph.com.sg

roysim@sph.com.sg

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