Geylang Serai Bazaar cancelled: How vendors are affected and handling it

Ramadan won’t be the same this year.

Many industries, including retail and F&B, have already been deeply affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The situation seems to be dire as businesses hope for more government aid in these trying times.

Then, just last week on March 18, the People’s Association (PA) announced that all Ramadan bazaars, including the iconic Geylang Serai Bazaar, will be cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Bazaar vendors affected

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This turn of events surely would have put an even larger dent on businesses who rely on the annual festive bazaar, typically held during the month-long fasting period of Ramadan.

In a CNA interview, Moenawir Arslan, founder of clothing store Batique, acknowledged that festive sales make up a third of his yearly revenue.

While he still can operate via his online store and showroom, other vendors who rely heavily solely on bazaars might not fare as well.

The Geylang bazaar, in some ways, has become a rite of passage for most upstart businesses. It’s essentially a month-long billboard for them, with hundreds of thousands of impressions and engagement.

Hence it wasn’t surprising when 80% of the vendors we spoke to were planning to participate in the Geylang Ramadan Bazaar this year prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

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The dim light at the end of the tunnel, for now, seems to be smaller scale bazaars managed by private organisers.

Haryani Othman, director and co-founder of MakBesar, plans to go ahead with her bazaar albeit a downsized one. “I think it’s ok for us to do smaller ones and control the number of crowd, and take precautions,” she said in the same CNA interview.

Vendors split on decision to cancel bazaar

With the Geylang Bazaar being such landmark event for the Muslim community in Singapore, its cancellation has brought about differing opinions from the bazaar’s backbone – its vendors.

Sofnade is a familiar vendor seen in the annual Geylang Bazaar
Photograph: Sofnade/Facebook

For the most part, vendors agreed that PA made the right move. Rishi Kesan, co-owner of Sofnade, said “As the novel coronavirus outbreak is a pandemic, we should minimise all large scale activities and work towards containing it. In the long run, this will be ultimately a benefit to the nation.”

For Beef Bro owner, Norvan Tan En Jie, the nation’s security outweighs monetary gains. “It’s the nation’s security at stake, there could be a chance for an outbreak within the bazaar, worsening the situation. We all just have to think of alternatives,” she said.

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Broti won't be at the bazaars this year
Photograph: Broti/Facebook

On the other hand, the abrupt news of the bazaar’s cancellation could not have come at a worse time for other vendors. For event-based companies, not participating in the bazaar is a huge business opportunity lost.

According to Syed Uzair, owner of Broti, they have invested $30-$40k on inventory to prep for Ramadan. With the bazaar cancellation, “it’s a huge amount to just be stuck with inventory for God knows how long.”

Revenue loss aside, no bazaar also means lesser income for their employees. “We have amassed quite a team and some of our staff may not be able to generate sufficient income,” said Shareefa Nurashikin, Broti’s marketing manager.

What could have been done better?

When asked about what could have been done better in handling the situation, almost all the vendors agreed that the government should step in with some sort of aid.

“I believe a lot of the enterprises out there are facing huge opportunity loses, tight cash flow and maintaining employments, the government could step in to provide more alternatives, assistance and supports,” Tan said.

“Some grants to directly assist us with day to day operations and overheads will be great,” Kesan chimed in.

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Other measures could also have been considered instead of cancelling the event entirely. Zareeza, owner of Charkoi, suggested introducing safety precautions at the bazaar such as temperature taking and providing sanitiser. However, she also understands that such measures would “require a lot of work and effort as a whole.”

For Broti, they hoped smaller scale events in controlled environments will still be allowed to go on instead of cancelling all events entirely.

Taking things into their own hands

Despite their differing opinions on the bazaar closure, all is not lost yet for these businesses. Backup plans are in the works.

For instance, Sofnade is planning on launching several home delivery packages that will be great sharing options for Ramadan. Charkoi is also planning to deliver their food to customers during this period.

For Beef Bro, their focus has now shifted to their physical locations at Clifford Centre, Century Square and Northpoint City instead.

In other news, another Ramadan Bazaar event LalooLalang has also announced that their event will be cancelled this year.

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