Coronavirus: Call to let mom-and-pop shops reopen earlier

While the circuit breaker measures will be eased on June 2, retailers have to remain shut while F&B outlets cannot offer dine-in options during the first "safe reopening" phase of the economy, which is expected to last at least four weeks.
While the circuit breaker measures will be eased on June 2, retailers have to remain shut while F&B outlets cannot offer dine-in options during the first "safe reopening" phase of the economy, which is expected to last at least four weeks.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Merchants' association fears up to 30% may go belly up otherwise

Some 20 per cent to 30 per cent of mom-and-pop shops may go belly up in four to six weeks if they have to continue to stay shuttered.

The president of the Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore (FMAS), Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, highlighted this as he called on the Government to allow these heartland enterprises to resume business in two weeks, among other recommendations.

While the circuit breaker measures will be eased on June 2, retailers have to remain shut while food and beverage (F&B) establishments cannot offer dine-in options during the first "safe reopening" phase of the economy, which is expected to last at least four weeks.

FMAS said retail shops and all F&B outlets have incurred huge losses for the last two months and "would like to be back in operation soonest to stay afloat". It expressed concern that any prolonged extension of the circuit breaker "will snowball into more undesirable damaging effects".

FMAS also proposed that the Government allow F&B joints to offer dine-in capacity at 50 per cent.

The association represents over 20,000 heartland businesses.

Mr Yeo noted that less than half of heartland shops have gone online, and that those offering services, such as beauty and wellness clinics and tuition centres, will find it harder to operate without a physical store. Consumers also prefer to buy pricey items in person.

"If community infection numbers remain at single digit, perhaps (businesses) can be allowed to open with safety measures in place, such as the wearing of masks and the use of safe tracing and entry phone apps," he said.

In a survey done by the association this month, 98 per cent of respondents said they expect business volume to dip this year compared with last year.

 
 

"Four to six weeks is too long and many of them cannot sustain themselves even with government relief measures," Mr Yeo said. "If their business is not open, they don't have income."

Mr Anthony Low, chairman of the FMAS hawker division, said some of the food hawkers, such as zi char stalls, find it difficult to offer takeaway options so they have chosen to close. "They have endured for two months but now they hear it will be some time more. It will be very challenging."

FMAS also proposed other initiatives like spending vouchers, speeding up banks' loan approval process, waiving temporary occupation licence fees for outdoor display areas and an extension of relief measures like property tax rebates.

Mr Mark Lim, owner of heartland mall retail chain Ilahui which sells fashion and lifestyle accessories, said sales have fallen by 60 per cent since the start of the circuit breaker period. He started selling items online 11/2 months ago.

"We have put items on Qoo10 and Shopee but it takes time for customers to know your brand and trust you. Online marketplaces are very crowded, with big players that can afford to give very low prices," he said. "It is really a struggle to attract customers because they have been going to other retailers who have been online longer. I really do hope that once the (coronavirus) cases start to have a significant drop, (we) can open up again."

Ms Elizabeth Lai, owner of fishing accessories shop E-Waves Fishbyte in Clementi, said overall sales have plunged by 50 per cent despite her store's online presence.

"We are surviving on online sales and covering our overheads, but this cannot totally make up for our physical takings. There are some items that customers have to come in to see, such as the fishing lines that they have to spool into their reels," she said.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat told The Straits Times a gradual reopening can help prevent a spike in virus infections, which can lead to a second wave that will impact society and businesses again. Store operators can go for training and use online tools that will prepare them for the future beyond the crisis, he added.

 
 

"We understand that businesses would like to start earlier and we will work with them to help them to prepare for the reopening when conditions allow.

"The Government will also look at what additional support measures can be provided for businesses that are unable to start until later."

“If community infection numbers remain at single digit, perhaps (businesses) can be allowed to open with safety measures in place, such as the wearing of masks and the use of safe tracing and entry phone apps,” he said.

In a survey done by the association this month, 98 per cent of respondents said they expect business volume to dip this year compared with last year.

“Four to six weeks is too long and many of them cannot sustain themselves even with government relief measures,” Mr Yeo said. “If their business is not open, they don’t have income.”

Mr Anthony Low, chairman of the FMAS hawker division, said some of the food hawkers, such as zi char stalls, find it difficult to offer takeaway options so they have chosen to close. “They have endured for two months but now they hear it will be some time more. It will be very challenging.”

FMAS also proposed other initiatives like spending vouchers, speeding up banks’ loan approval process, waiving temporary occupation licence fees for outdoor display areas and an extension of relief measures like property tax rebates.

Mr Mark Lim, owner of heartland mall retail chain Ilahui which sells fashion and lifestyle accessories, said sales have fallen by 60 per cent since the start of the circuit breaker period. He started selling items online 11/2 months ago.

“We have put items on Qoo10 and Shopee but it takes time for customers to know your brand and trust you. Online marketplaces are very crowded, with big players that can afford to give very low prices,” he said. “It is really a struggle to attract customers because they have been going to other retailers who have been online longer. I really do hope that once the (coronavirus) cases start to have a significant drop, (we) can open up again.”

 
 
 

Ms Elizabeth Lai, owner of fishing accessories shop E-Waves Fishbyte in Clementi, said overall sales have plunged by 50 per cent despite her store’s online presence.

“We are surviving on online sales and covering our overheads, but this cannot totally make up for our physical takings. There are some items that customers have to come in to see, such as the fishing lines that they have to spool into their reels,” she said.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat told The Straits Times a gradual reopening can help prevent a spike in virus infections, which can lead to a second wave that will impact society and businesses again. Store operators can go for training and use online tools that will prepare them for the future beyond the crisis, he added.

“We understand that businesses would like to start earlier and we will work with them to help them to prepare for the reopening when conditions allow.

“The Government will also look at what additional support measures can be provided for businesses that are unable to start until later.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2020, with the headline 'Call to let mom-and-pop shops reopen earlier'. Print Edition | Subscribe