Saigon traders long for business revival with removal of metro project barrier

By Gia Minh   April 12, 2021 | 04:49 pm PT
Saigon traders long for business revival with removal of metro project barrier
The construction site of an underground station of the metro line No.1 at the intersection of Nguyen Hue and Pasteur Streets, District 1, HCMC, April 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
Traders on HCMC’s Le Loi Street have breathed a sigh of relief as the underground metro station construction site prepares for clearance later this month.

These days, inside the two-meter-high, 100-meter-long barrier of the construction site for the Metro Line No. 1 underground station at the intersection of Le Loi and Pasteur streets, more than 20 workers are toiling to install drainage systems and upgrade road surfaces.

Excavators and rollers have been working non-stop as the HCMC Management Authority for Urban Railways (MAUR), investor of Ben Thanh-Suoi Tien metro line, prepares to remove the site barrier following project completion.

A part of the dismantled barrier area will be covered with green trees while the rest on both sides is used as asphalt roads.

Sitting at her painting shop at the start of the deserted Le Loi Street, largely occupied by the construction barrier, Le Thi Kieu feels happy as the space in front of her shop is about to be returned after seven years.

Having traded on the street for more than 25 years, with the first metro line still to take shape, Kieu’s business had prospered thanks to its convenient location near popular tourist hotspots like Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Tax Trade Center and five-star Rex Hotel.

Her customers were mainly foreign tourists.

Le Loi Street, considered the "golden land" of the southern economic hub, was often busy with business, trade and tourism activities.

However, in 2014, the barrier erected for the construction of the Opera House underground station, severely affected the lives and businesses of local residents.

The long barrier obscured the entire view of business households along both sides of the street, leaving narrow and bumpy aisles. The street filled with the hustle and bustle of business activities has been replaced by the sound of machines, smoke and dust, with customers gradually growing sparse.

Business households had to put up notice boards, stating "business is still normal, please drop by." They even hired someone outside to guide customers, but due to the inconvenience, lack of parking space and narrow paths, the business situation had not improved.

Lack of customers has caused the revenue of many households to decrease by more than half, while they still had to pay rent and loan interests of hundreds of millions of dong per month (VND1 million equals $43).

The shop of Kieu and many surrounding households then had to shrink their businesses and cut down on staff.

"For the past year, since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, many tenants have been forced to end their lease contracts to cut costs," said Kieu, adding many high-end fashion shops had to close down.

The government has closed national borders and canceled all international flights since March last year with only Vietnamese repatriates, foreign experts and highly-skilled workers allowed in with stringent conditions.

Nieng Diem, 30, employed at a fashion store on Le Loi Street, said she has worked there for more than two years and that the shop received only a few customers each day.

From Nguyen Hue pedestrian street, wanting to enter her shop, customers have to walk through a narrow half-meter wide passage. Her shop is hidden behind the barrier, making it difficult to see from the outside, so her customers are mostly acquaintances or book online.

The front of a fashion store on Le Loi Street is blocked by the construction barrier, on April 8, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh.

The front of a fashion store on Le Loi Street is blocked by the metro line No.1 construction barrier, on April 8, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh.

When the pandemic broke out, resulting in a ban on foreign tourists, European visitors, usually considered big spenders, have been nearly absent, resulting in a business slump, Diem said.

"Despite sluggish business, my company has other branches to compensate for its loss, so this venue (on Le Loi Street) has remained in operation for more than a decade," a staff member said.

Hearing the barrier of the metro construction site was to be dismantled, the whole company grew very happy, hoping the pandemic would quickly come to an end so travel and business could soon revive, she added.

According to MAUR, the barrier along a part of Le Loi Street from Nguyen Hue to Pasteur, will be cleared and its road surface upgraded by April 30 while other barriers on the underground metro station construction site would be removed by the end of this year.

In April last year, a part of Le Loi Street from Dong Khoi to Nguyen Hue, previously used as the construction site for the underground metro station, was also cleared.

The 19.7-kilometer metro route No. 1 from Ben Thanh Market in District 1 to the Suoi Tien theme park in District 9 is scheduled to enter operation in 2022. Built at a cost of VND43.7 trillion ($1.89 billion), it will have 14 stations, three underground and 11 on the surface, some elevated.

Work on the underground sections of the Opera House and Ba Son stations, which started in 2014, is now 95 percent complete while nearby Ben Thanh underground station is 86 percent finished.

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