This week we finally spoke to the guy from the real estate management company about the possibility of renewing our lease. His answer was yes, provided that we accept an almost 3 fold increase in our rent. Of course we said no. The one thing we will never do is work for our landlord.
Real estate agents either don’t know or don’t care about the realities of doing business in Singapore. They tell people that Club Street a hip area with a good expat crowd. The truth is that Club Street is quiet on most days, even weekends. To build a business here, you have to hold out for a few years before you have a stable customer base. But how do you hold out if your rent is unaffordable? How do you hold out if your landlord and agents triple the rent when your lease runs up? So many shops have opened and closed on Ann Siang Hill and Club Street in recent years. The only places that can afford the rent on this street are places that sell alcohol. That is why you see so many bars opening on the street, because only places that sell alcohol can make that kind of rent.
And these bars only make money if they sell alcohol to Caucasians, because there are many of them who don’t stop drinking, and many of them who keep drinking cos their companies are paying for it. Do we really wish for Club Street to become a giant bar for white people? Even drunk white people don’t want Club Street to be a giant bar for white people.
So many times tourists have come to our shop and asked if there are other interesting shops on Club Street, because their guide book says this street is full of character. We tell them the few we know and they tell us that they’ve already been there. They ask us where this place they read about and we tell them that they have moved away or closed down. They look at us hopefully. We tell them to go to the zoo in Mandai.
Last night, I searched for properties available for rent on Club Street and saw our shop being advertised as suitable for a cafe. For those of you who have been in our store enough times, you’d probably have experienced a black out in the shop. This happens at least 3 times a day. Our fridge defrosts overnight almost everyday. We have a 70s Popeye tin pail in our back room that fills with water every time it rains. The lights out in the front can’t be turned on as there’s a electrical short in the system. We do not have a grease trap. The flooring would need to be totally redone.
Our store used to be a hair salon. It closed down suddenly and the space was left empty in the way that it was for 8 months. They left boxes of human hair and all their equipment in the store. Bridget and I spent many nights cleaning it all up, and then spent a good amount of money renovating the space to turn it into what it is. But we were willing to put up with all that because rent was affordable. I know we have a beautiful store. That is why the real estate company thinks it can get what it wants in rent.
I guess you could probably turn the shop into a cafe, but you’d have to be an already rich person, or the offspring of a rich person. And if you were a smart rich person, you’d buy a building. And rich people don’t get rich by making bad rental decisions. If you’re just someone trying to make a living from running a cafe or retail store, probably for the first time, congratulations, you’ve just been fucked by a real estate company.
Greed turns Singapore, amongst other things, into a boring place. Real estate agents tell landlords they can get more rent out of their properties, landlords think yes, more rent is good, and then small businesses keep having to move or close down because only certain kinds of businesses are able to afford the rent. Rental prices in Singapore are comparable to cities like Tokyo or New York, but Singapore does not have the market to justify high rentals. We also do not make as much money as people in Tokyo or New York to spend in a way that can support high rentals. Businesses have no choice but to pass rental costs to consumers. And that is how Singapore has become the 9th most expensive city in the world. And the most boring. If you’re expensive, at least don’t be boring! (On a side note, expensive cities should not be paying old people $500 a month to clean shit, but that is another rant altogether.)
And guess what? There is RENT CONTROL in most big cities! But since we have douche bag government, we will just have to help ourselves by never agreeing to work for the landlord.
We are extremely grateful to our previous landlords, even the crazy one, for allowing us to spend two wonderful years in this location. I don’t really know how to end this post, but if you are a non-douche bag agent, or if you know of a non-douche bag agent, or if, better still, you are a landlord with a great space, please contact us.