By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond
The iconic streetwear shop 77th Street closed its last shop about a month ago, after operating in Singapore for 28 years. In its heyday, 77th Street boasted some 16 shops. It was popular among youngsters for its range of streetwear and accessories.
The founder, Ms Elim Chew, started her first outlet at Far East Plaza in 1988. She was a successful businesswoman who had garnered many business awards:
• “Most Promising Woman Entrepreneur of the Year” by ASME, 2001
• “Mont Blanc Businesswomen Award”, 2002
• “Young Woman Achiever Award” by Her World, 2003
• “Leadership and Mentoring Award” by Research Communications International, 2003
She was also praised for helping in social enterprises which supported youth entrepreneurship and inculcated an entrepreneurial mindset in out-of-school youths. Because of her prominence, the government got her to chair or co-chair some 20 committees of several public services, youth and community groups including the Programming Committee for *scape.
“Working for the landlord”
In an interview with CNA recently, she blamed the closure of her 77th Street chain to high rental, which is killing many businesses in Singapore these days.
“Well, you know, the dream during that time was to open up to 24 or 30 outlets all around Singapore. The rental was then affordable. But as the rental became higher and higher and higher, we find that we’re just working for the landlord to pay off the rental,” she said.
“When I first started, (the rental rate) was $9 per square foot, today it’s $35 per square foot. So, you know, we decided that we shouldn’t embark into opening more shops.”
“Today, with the high rentals, many unique and different types of businesses that are very funky and cool, cannot sustain themselves. Now shops have changed. It’s the repetition of many shops in different (ways), that’s why we’re not becoming a shopping paradise,” she added.
Ang Mo Kio Hub belongs to NTUC
Interestingly, the last 77th Street shop closed was at Ang Mo Kio Hub, which is owned by Mercatus Ltd, part of NTUC group of companies. It is one of the NTUC social enterprises under the NTUC Enterprise family.
Its website said, “It is our vision to own and manage strategically located shopping malls in the heartlands of Singapore to provide NTUC social enterprises with retail space to serve the daily needs of working families. Through its investments, Mercatus also aims to generate sustainable long term returns for the Labour Movement.”
No doubt, with large expenses incurred by the Labour Movement, especially paying for the salaries of the many NTUC officials inside, NTUC has to find ways to generate incomes in order to support them.
“We are proud to house many of the NTUC social enterprises in our properties so that union members, residents and visitors to the malls are able to enjoy affordable and quality products and services,” the website added.
But meanwhile, shopkeepers are paying high rentals through their nose. Like what Elim Chew said, shopkeepers are only working for the landlord.