SINGAPORE - The government is pumping $29 million to spruce up more Housing Board shops across the island - the latest and largest batch of funding in an ongoing scheme to help such businesses stay competitive.
The funding will help 1,335 shops under the Revitalisation of Shops (ROS) scheme, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee announced on Monday (Aug 29). He was on a visit to Geylang East Neighbourhood Centre - one of the 17 new sites that have been selected to undergo a revamp.
Of these, seven sites will receive co-funding from the HDB for the upgrading of common areas and to carry out promotional events. Six sites will receive funding for common area upgrading only and four will be funded only for promotional events. All sites had applied for the scheme and indicated whether they wanted common area upgrading, promotional events or both.
Other sites include neighbourhoods in Jurong East, Ang Mo Kio, Hougang, Tampines and Bedok, among others.
This comes after the ROS scheme was enhanced in May this year. The changes include increasing the upgrading budget for each shop from $20,000 to $35,000 and reducing the shop owner's share of the cost from 50 per cent to 20 per cent and capping it at $5,000.
New funds were also set up for HDB shops so they can hire consultants to help them with upgrading and form merchants' associations if they do not already have one.
So far, businesses in eight sites have applied to set up merchants' associations. These include shops at Circuit Road, Keat Hong Shopping Centre and Bedok Reservoir Road.
Stressing the importance of keeping heartland shops alive, Mr Lee said they not only provide convenience and affordability, but also create a sense of community and belonging.
"Many of them have been here for many years," said Mr Lee.
"So there's a sense of being back home, (of) familiar surroundings and friendly faces of shopkeepers add to that sense of homeliness.
So we want to make sure that our heartland shops get infused with vitality. We want to help our heartland shops do well, inject vitality in the neighbourhood, because they also employ many Singaporeans."
"Beyond making the estate look good, we also want the shopkeepers to tap on funding to have creative ideas to promote the heartland businesses. Because they face intense competition, not only from shopping malls, but increasingly from the online space."
Mr Lee added that neighbourhoods are chosen for ROS based on certain key criteria.
"First the applicant needs to have a merchants' association...We need an organisation to work with in order for ROS to work."
"Secondly we want the neighbourhood centre to have a certain scale, (a) certain number of shops in order for there to be economy of scale when we do the enhancement works."
In order for the scheme to kick in, however, all shops in the neighbourhood need to agree to take part.
Mr Yong Teck Chai, 52, chairman of the Geylang East Central Merchants' Association, said most of the shopkeepers he has spoken to are in favour.
He hopes that the revamp will attract not only younger customers but also younger shop owners.
"Hopefully we can all get new awnings, flooring and brighter lights on the corridors," said Mr Yong.
Owner of magazine and sundry shop K. Mohan Raj, 49, said it is "about time" that businesses at his Aljunied block are spruced up.
"We last renovated 20 years ago," said Mr Mohan, whose father, Mr R. Krishnavenu, 85, set up the shop in 1988.
"Business has been slowing down even on weekends. I've had to start selling other items and price my goods lower," said Mr Mohan. "Hopefully with the upgrading our shop will look nicer and more customers will come."
Furniture store owner Florence Lim, 56, is also hopeful that the scheme can turn things around amid the sluggish economy.
"My sales have gone down by half since last year," said Madam Lim, whose shop is also in Aljunied.
"If the market is bad, no matter what you do, people won't come. But I guess it's worth a try."
Since its inception in Nov 2007, the ROS scheme has benefitted 54 HDB town and neighbourhood centres.
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