Tuesday, 8 January 2008

We Mustafa Look

This story starts at a dinner party of 8 people, about half of whom we knew. As the conversation meandered around the usual middle-class obsessions of jobs, stupid politics and rising house prices we took a detour into shopping and one man's eyes lit up when we expressed no knowledge of a Singapore shop called Mustafas. We were regaled with stories of people arriving at Changi airport, leaping in a cab and saying "Take me to Mustafas". Our host admitted to starting a fracas by going to the food section to buy chapati; stood in front of a large display of many brands, she asked the Indian lady on her left which was the best one and ended up starting an argument with the lady on her right who disagreed vocally. Our host grabbed a pack and ducked out of that one. Part of the shop is open 24/7 and we were recommended to visit during the night to avoid the crowds.

So with this setup, we had to find out. Mustafas is a department store spread across several buildings in a block at the north end of Little India. Allegedly, it was mentioned in passing by the Prime Minister in an August National Day speech when he noted the significant export trade in TVs and other electrical goods that Singaporean retailers achieve.

When we moseyed along there on Saturday night, we realised we had been there before, but had never bothered to explore what looks like a fairly ordinary department store. What sets it apart is ferocious cost cutting and a wide service portfolio tweaked for Indian expats and visitors. It reminds me of Trago Mills; a large, rambling store full of everything from food, clothing, luggage, electronics, cosmetics, medicines, computers, a Post Office, money change bureau, calling cards, credit services and even an hotel. We asked one checkout lady what was in the other building and her reply of "more items" seemed unhelpfully terse until we went to check it out and indeed, it was just more stuff with little to differentiate it from the previous section other than latitude and longitude.

Prices can be good or just typical, it varies, so you need some discretion when buying but the feeling is of cost-plus pricing rather than what will the market bear?

There's loads of staff (mostly Indians) and security is reasonably tight to avoid retail shrinkage. Carry bags are tie-wrapped off at the till and later when we tired of the crowds and retired across the road to an Indian vegetarian restaurant for a stuffed naan with paneer mutter (cheese with peas) and a mango lassi, the other tables were strewn around with the characteristic pinched carrier bags. We'll be going back as it's worth an occasional visit to pick up cheap essentials and have a good Indian meal.