The Sunday Times says

Breathing new life into heartland shops

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Mom-and-pop shops and other small stores and businesses are so ubiquitous in the landscape of HDB towns that Singaporeans tend to take them for granted. In recent decades, these neighbourhood stalwarts have declined in popularity as shopping trends evolve. The pandemic, however, has put the spotlight back on such shops. They proved to be a lifeline, especially during the circuit breaker period when people's movements were curtailed. These shops literally bring goods and services to their customers' doorstep. The Ministry of National Development's move to invite public feedback on how to revitalise these shops thus comes at the right time. Some 15,000 such establishments are spread out across Singapore. While many people now shop at air-conditioned malls and well-stocked hypermarkets, heartland shops still play an essential role in offering affordability and accessibility.

The fact that chain stores have moved into some shopfronts prove that heartland locations can be attractive business propositions. But many heartland shops are often old-fashioned enterprises. They will need to catch up with the times. Pricing transparency, better displays and digital payments are inevitable improvements that need to be made if they are to stay relevant. Introducing new businesses and trades into neighbourhood retail nodes will probably improve foot traffic. But entry pain points for entrepreneurs - rental being the biggest one - will need to be addressed. If the end goal is a vibrant neighbourhood, the formula may also need more than mere dollars and cents. Social enterprises could bring the community together in fresh ways. All these factors can be excavated in feedback sessions. It will be a tall order to revive these shops. But it is worth making the effort for these shops, embedded in the heartland for decades, have strong economic and social value.

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