On Fridays, Roswati wakes up at 4am to prepare about 50 packets of food that will be distributed to her “neighbours” of 24 years – fellow shopkeepers at Joo Chiat Complex (JCC). After all, they are family—having soldiered through the pandemic lockdowns together and emerging largely unscathed with help from the various measures that HDB implemented to temporarily reduce and allow flexible repayment of rent.
Today’s menu is Singapore-styled nasi rawon, steaming hot rice with different meat and vegetable dishes, a delicious medley not unlike the diverse community of JCC. Built in 1983, the mall features an extensive trade mix targeted at the Singaporean Malay community.
“This is where your mother brought you to shop for Raya essentials, and where you now tote your baby while choosing curtains for your new home,” Roswati laughs.
Connection, Not Competition
Roswati herself runs a business selling traditional Malay clothing with her sister-in-law. Her shop is one of several located along a stretch that boasts a dazzling array of ethnic attire in various colours, cut, and material.
“It looks like this even when it is not Hari Raya,” Roswati gestures to the customers filing into her shop. Our customers have weddings and other events to attend every week!”
When asked about competition, she laughs. “Each shop has its own niche styles and customer base, so we are not competing,” she explains, while playing with the baby of a neighbouring shop keeper, who herself is a second-generation owner having taken over the family business.
To Many More Good Years
Roswati first set up shop in 1999, and has so far renewed her tenancy every time the 3-year term is up. She likes the space and the community in JCC, and of course, the customers who keep coming back.
“I have seen so many of my customers grow up. Some of them even come back to my shop while wearing my clothes from 10 – 15 years ago!” she gushes. “It makes me feel so proud.” In fact, she started curating formal children’s clothing about a decade ago to meet the needs of regulars who have welcomed children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, to their families over the years.
Roswati says having a physical shopfront is useful as she can speak to customers directly, and they can also feel the fabric and try out the clothes before purchasing. It also keeps her up to date on fashion trends so she can provide better service. Most recently, she started to bring in XXXL sizes after seeing how difficult it was for customers to find plus-size traditional Malay clothing. These are now hugely popular and frequently sell out.
Noting that the last round of upgrades by HDB saw a huge improvement in the air-conditioning of the mall, Roswati is looking forward to the upcoming festive plaza that will be built as part of the rejuvenation works of Geylang Serai. “Other than Singaporeans, I wish that more tourists would visit JCC and experience the richness of our culture and the closeness of our community,” she smiles.