Well-to-do Indonesians would come to purchase in volume. Locals, dressed in tailored clothing that are immaculately, would try to find another fashion statement. And the hundred fabric stores at People’s Park prospered.
The ground floor continues to be a hive of activity, but this is due to the food center. For the fabric stores above, of which only 31 stay, business is quiet, and time is fleeting.
“We would sell as many as 10 boxes of fabric monthly,” said 64-year old shopkeeper Patrick Liew, recalling the roaring commerce of the 1970s and 1980s. “But now we take up to six months to clear a box (a thousand yards) of material.
“There is no way we can increase sales when a shirt costs $10 as well as a dress costs $17 at Bugis Street.”
Together with the Economic Development Board developing labour-intensive industries in the 1960s, Singapore became the go-to place as factories and stores sprung up for garments and fabrics.
But destroyed by imports and mass production of low-priced ready- to-wear apparel, business has dropped since the 1990s by as much as 75%.
In addition, they consider the likelihood of a restoration is not favourable, regardless of the approaching upgarding by the Housing Board.
Under batch four of its Revitalisation of Stores system, the Government will spend $11 million co-financing the renovation of 35 sites, including People’s Park that was constructed in 1968.
By the time upgrading is over, the centre, having been often mistaken for People’s Park Complex and neighbours People’s Park Center, will soon be renamed People’s Park Plaza in accordance with previous reports.
But that has made shopkeepers worried, higher rents which will bite into their measly profit margins.
By the end of next year, their tenancies will be due for renewal, and HDB will review their rents to replicate prevalent market rates.
An HDB spokesman said that tenants whose rents will increase by 10% will get help.
“We expect they keep our rates low,” said Madam Irene Wong, 54, who has rented a store since 2005.
In a month that sales are high, she can make about $1,500, after settling a rent of $2,200.
“You cannot raise a family on that little amount. Happily, most people are past that phase and are here to pass time,” she said.
Madam Wong relies on a pool of 50 or so frequent customers, most of whom are tai tais. These more rich women will willingly spend. It costs about $60 and $100 to sew a blouse and dress respectively.
“They believe it is worthwhile to have a style and design which flatters them that nobody else has,” she added.
58-year-old shop owner, Maggie Ng, said she will continue serving her regulars and occasional customers like tourists and will soldier on.
But retailers in the complex cater primarily to fashion design students and retirees sewing their grandchildren bedsheets and pyjamas.
There is little interest in tailored garments. As well as the dearth of tailors has not helped either.
“They cannot see as nicely as before, so they have discontinued sewing,” said store owner Seow Soon Kiat, 66, describing how a generation of tailors is slowly going into retirement.
“But we make an effort to maintain things fresh by selling modern prints and designs from Japan and Europe.”
But retiree Jenny Phua, one regular shopper, 61, said the stores have their allure. “It is more affordable to purchase your own fabric and sew your own bedsheets.”
Fashion photographer Adrian Jiun, 28, opines that a revamp could do wonders, and he indicates enhancing the ventilation, adding: “Maybe they can contemplate modernising the spot to attract the crowds and also make it more comfortable for shoppers.”
But Mr Liew, who brings in an average of $1,000 a month, considers today’s fashion is quite telling of the ending of an age for tailored wear. “Customers used to be very well-dressed. They came holding hands with their beaus in superbly tailored clothing. It was quite a glamorous age,” he said.
“But right now, the young folks wear mass produced, inferior shorts and slippers. It is just the way that it is.
“When the time comes, we need to prepare to shut our stores for good.”