SINGAPORE – After almost 40 years of doing business in Golden Mile Complex, Thai Supermarket is relocating to Aperia, bringing a little piece of Little Thailand to the mall in Kallang.
The current supermarket will close on April 9 and is likely to reopen at the end of April or early May in the new location. Renovations, costing a seven-figure sum, have already started.
Tenants at the 50-year-old Golden Mile Complex, a landmark on Beach Road, have been relocating after a successful collective sale in May last year. It went for $700 million to a consortium comprising Far East Organization, Perennial Holdings and Sino Land.
The sale dismantles Singapore’s Little Thailand, with its concentration of Thai grocery and clothing shops, hair and nail salons, restaurants and bars.
At the centre of the action has been Thai Supermarket, set up in 1987 by the five Loh brothers.
One of them, Mr Loh Yuen Seng, 59, had been doing business in Golden Mile Complex since 1985, when he sold trousers in a tailor shop. In the beginning, he and his brothers catered to Thai workers from construction sites in the area, who would shop and eat at the complex.
They also have a remittance business, BKK Forex, which will move to Aperia.
At least one of the restaurants in the building, Nana Thai, will open at Aperia, with another likely to follow suit.
Mr Loh says he considered alternative locations, but had a tough time finding a big enough space until Aperia offered him 10,000 sq ft in the ground-floor atrium area. The mall, he adds, is a five-minute walk from Lavender MRT station and a seven-minute walk from the Bendemeer station.
“Aperia is close to Golden Mile, so our customers don’t have to travel too far to find us,” he says. “And there’s a bus stop right in front.”
The new Thai Supermarket is not limited to groceries either. There will be two mini-restaurants with seating, three food kiosks – selling fried bananas and Thai desserts, among other things – and space for four small businesses, such as hair and nail salons. The final mix has not been nailed down.
Mr Loh’s business has moved from catering to Thai construction workers to attracting mostly Singaporeans. They make up 80 per cent of his customers, with Thais and expatriates making up the rest.
The relocation, he says, is a chance for the business to evolve further.
It started that process in 2020 by selling Thai snacks and condiments online in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, when people turned to shopping from home. Later, it had a mini facelift, adding new chillers for Thai herbs, vegetables and other produce.
“This is a chance to upgrade our concept, to modernise,” Mr Loh says.
He has to. There is potential to grow his business because office workers throng Aperia at lunchtime, with queues forming at many of the food businesses and restaurants there.
So, the new supermarket will showcase new products right at the entrance of the supermarket, in a tuk-tuk or auto-rickshaw like the ones that ply the streets of Thailand.
“Whether the products make it to the shelves permanently will depend on how well they sell,” Mr Loh adds.
Other new things shoppers can look forward to include organic Thai products, and keto and gluten-free condiments such as sriracha, sweet chilli, oyster, soya and fish sauces, and noodles.
Fruit will be imported directly from Thailand. Halal selections will be beefed up too.
The supermarket now carries some locally sourced products but – aside from basics such as cooking oil, rice and salt – the new one will focus on Thai products.
Customers also have new ways to pay. The supermarket will have self-checkout counters and will, for the first time, accept credit cards.
Despite the changes, Mr Loh wants to keep his Thai customers, who now have more choices of where to get Thai groceries, with smaller shops popping up all over Singapore.
He says: “We have to think about how to get them to follow us and carry as many products as possible so they don’t leave disappointed.”
Once the business at Aperia stabilises, he says he will look into opening smaller shops offering groceries and food in estates such as Tampines, Punggol and Jurong.
“My dream is to bring authentic Thai flavour and culture to Singapore,” he says.