Help for shops, but can they last?
AS THE Government pumps in even more money to help heartland mom-and-pop shops, experts are wondering about the scheme's viability, at a time when shopping malls and supermarkets are multiplying across housing estates.
The Housing Board yesterday announced it is setting aside $1.9 million to help 2,800 shops in 29 HDB sites under the Revitalisation of Shops (ROS) scheme, marking the sixth round of funding since it launched the scheme in 2007.
Two of the 29 sites - located in Bukit Batok and Simei - will get co-funding for physical upgrading of common areas, including facade improvements.
The rest will get co-funding for promotional events organised by merchants' associations.
All the sites' shops can apply to have their rent waived for a month if they renovate.
HDB has spent about $8.4 million since the ROS scheme was set up in November 2007. It has thus far helped 4,600 shops at 52 sites - more than half of all HDB town and neighbourhood centres.
But Dr Lynda Wee, an adjunct associate professor in retailing at Nanyang Technological University, thinks it is time these heartland shops review their businesses and reinvent themselves, especially at a time when there are "suburban malls at your doorstep".
"These shops should take the funding from the Government and do a major sectoral study instead. Gather insights into how the climate has changed and find out exactly what residents want," said Dr Wee.
PropNex chief Mohamed Ismail agreed, saying that these shops should step up their game.
"Currently, many of these shopkeepers fear competition from newly developed shopping or neighbourhood malls. They need to make an assessment and see if they are still relevant in that area," said Mr Ismail.
But Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director of research and consultancy at property firm SLP International, is in favour of the scheme. "This kind of co-helping...it is a way of helping shopkeepers to help themselves," he said.
HDB said retailers in previous rounds had found that sales spiked by 30 per cent during promotional events.
A My Paper check with 10 heartland shops at the selected sites found that store owners are divided about the scheme.
Some had received physical upgrading in previous rounds, but found this drove away customers permanently. "During the renovation, the customers had to go somewhere else and they got used to the new stores, so they never came back," said Mr Neo Chee Kion, owner of Toa Payoh clothing store AJ Avenue.
Liat Heng Jewellery and Goldsmith owner Chia Peng Wee believes that no amount of government aid can overcome the fierce competition from chain stores. Over the past 25 years, he has seen many neighbours in Toa Payoh Mall shut down as stores like Courts and FairPrice moved in.
"There are so many brand-name stores here...Even if they do not do well here, they will have other sources of revenue (from other branches) to help them survive," he said.
Others were more optimistic. One fruit-stall owner in Bishan, who wanted to be known only as Mr Quek, said: "Having such promotional events will mean more people, and more people will mean more business."