As I walk down the streets of the neighbourhood I grew up in, I realised how much everything has changed. Though I walk down this stretch of road almost every day, I have become conscious of how this place has become more unfamiliar to me. In the blink of an eye, 15 years have passed since I moved here, and many of the old shops that I used to patronise are replaced by newer chain stores. These old shops are now nothing but memories in my head. I can feel myself slowly forgetting how my old neighbourhood looked like.
I spent most of my early days at the wet market with my grandmother, playing catch with my siblings at the playground, meeting friends who lived around the area. Even though there is nothing predominantly exceptional or eye-catching about this neighbourhood (even the food in the hawker centre has grown to become quite boring), I am nonetheless grateful for the part that these spaces played in the experiences that I had – they were the backdrop to many of first memories.
Recently, I’ve realised that the local traditional shops around my neighbourhood have been doing quite poorly, and a number of them have been forced to close down. Places like the tailor and the CD shops are no longer popular among the residents. They tend to visit the nearby shopping malls and its stores rather than these old rundown neighbourhood shops, seemingly less appealing to the younger generation. If this continues to happen, eventually, your local neighbourhood shops will fade away and become a part of your distant past too.
Is there a way to stop these traditional local stores from dying out then?
With rising rental costs, it is simply not economically feasible to keep their businesses running. I understand that many people will think that if more customers patronise their stalls, they will be able to have enough customers to increase their profits – but I do not think that it is that simple. Nostalgia is not a good enough economic strategy. In order to remain relevant, these shops will need to change their business models to attract younger audiences.
An interesting example of how shop owners can creatively revamp their stores to keep up with the times is Hua Bee Restaurant in Tiong Bahru. The shop was about to be closed down after 70 years of operations but thankfully, the residents in the area raised awareness for the shop by creating a Facebook page. The new lessee, Loh Lik Peng, had also allowed Hua Bee Restaurant to run its normal coffee shop operations in the day, but the traditional shop is transformed into a modern yakitori restaurant called Bincho when the sun sets. The move has helped to ensure that Hua Bee Restaurant is able to continue selling local dishes.
As the saying goes, ‘change is the only constant’. These traditional local shops will eventually make way for newer stores. It is precisely the fact that these shops are dying out that allows us to fully appreciate these places, cherish these memories, and keep them close to our hearts. Even though this seems like our local culture is dying, I believe that it is evolving instead. It is not a loss but rather a development of culture. These local traditional shops have paved the way for the younger generation to create innovative new concepts that implement fresh ideas to add a twist to our local cultures. We should embrace these inevitable changes and appreciate that some younger individuals are taking on the responsibility of preserving these shops even if it may not be the same as how it was like in the past.
I am looking forward to seeing what the younger locals have planned for our local stores in our country, and I cannot wait to see what is yet to come.