No one really wins at Geylang Serai Bazaar, where stall rentals have soared to sky-high levels of $17k

Photo: Coconuts Media

Argue all you want about the merits of rainbow-coloured snacks, but you can’t deny that the legion of trendy, Instagram-ready food and beverage vendors aren’t good news for the hawkers of traditional fare at Geylang Serai Bazaar.

A report by The Straits Times revealed that vendors at the popular annual Ramadan bazaar in Geylang are forking out as much as $17,000 in rentals to set up food stalls. A sky-high price that’s no doubt due in part to the market’s burgeoning popularity from trendy hipster consumables such as fried Oreos, rainbow burgers and other newfangled foodstuffs that look like unicorn excrement.

Stall owners speaking to the paper however noted that the escalating rentals have been due to a price war between the two trade fair organisers who’ve won rights to run the bazaar over the past couple of years. They’ve had to increase their bids (over a million dollars each) to run the spaces, and as such, raise their stall rentals.

Historically, the annual bazaar has been geared towards the needs of the Malay-Muslim community, who want to stock up supplies such as and other items for Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri. It’s a one-stop spot to get all the lontong, deng deng, lampu kelap-kelip and baju you need for the celebrations.

The past few years however saw increased popularity among millennials after Insta-worthy food and drinks started appearing in the bazaar. In came the churros, the bagels, the bingsus, the molten raclette cheese, the milkshakes.

On one hand, it makes for a more vibrant, inclusive atmosphere and effectively attracts bigger crowds for the market. On the other, it’s basically gentrification, with stalls hawking traditional fare and items suffering from record-high rental rates and difficulties in turning in profits. Not to mention the loss of the bazaar’s cultural roots and the fact that most of the gimmicky grub offered often turn out to be mediocre, overpriced nonsense.

It’s a vicious cycle really, when you think about it. The emergence of hipster stalls pulls in bigger crowds, causing trade fair organisers to place higher bids to get a piece of the profits gained from larger turnouts. Their higher bids prompt them to raise rentals, which in turn causes vendors to come up with more gimmicks and so-called innovation to attract attention and sales, because they need to cover their high rent. More trendy food and beverages garners even bigger footfall, which will inevitably cause trade fair organisers to up their bids yet again to run the bazaar the following year.

Really, we get it, change is the only constant in life. But at the end of the day, no one really wins with shitty overrated food, overcrowded spaces, higher rentals and deteriorating cultural legacies.

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