Workers at Big Box face uncertainties after announcement of sale

Workers at Big Box asked if they will be allowed to continue operating after the sale closes on June 14 and what it will mean for the warehouse retail scheme, under which they operate. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - With Big Box now put up for sale, those working at the landmark eight-storey building in Jurong East Regional Centre are unsure of their own future.

They asked if they will be allowed to continue operating after the sale closes on June 14 and what it will mean for the warehouse retail scheme, under which they operate.

Owned by a subsidiary of mainboard-listed consumer electronics retailer TT International, the mall boasts everything from fashion shops for retail therapy to furniture retailers, supermarkets and restaurants.

But Cushman & Wakefield, the exclusive marketing agent for the sale, said the warehouse retail scheme has since expired.

The owner of a food stall, who declined to be named, said she was not worried if she has to cease operation.

"I was not told whether we would be asked to vacate, but my lease expires next month either way. I'm not worried because I can still operate at bazaars and online," she said.

Several businesses complained of low traffic to the mall, which is a four-minute walk from Jurong East MRT station.

A food stall owner said in her five months of operating at Big Box, she would get about 20 customers on a weekday, and 30 on weekends.

"In the first three months (of operation), I could not cover the rent with the profit," she said.

A cashier at Big Box HyperMart, who declined to be named, described what it has been like for her since she started working there a year ago.

She said: "I would typically get about 50 customers a day... Around this area, there are supermarkets like Giant and NTUC, where customers can get everything they need at a cheaper price."

There were only a handful of customers at the hypermart, which occupies more than half of the first storey, when The Straits Times visited Big Box around 2pm on Thursday (May 17).

Mr Abdul Rahim, 51, a technical supervisor, was at at the mall with his wife for the 30 temporary stalls set up for the Hari Raya bazaar which will run until June 14.

He said: "You have other attractive places like Westgate and Jem around here, maybe youngsters prefer going there, while this place is for older people like us."

But over at the food court on the third storey, business has been good.

Mr David Chia, executive chef of seven halal stalls at the 800-seat food court, which is owned by Big Box, said it maintains an 80 per cent capacity during peak periods.

"The halal stalls are making a profit. It's rare that you get so many halal stalls in one food court, and that's what brings customers in," said Mr Chia, who is in his 50s.

He said he is confident the food court will remain after the sale of Big Box.

"Despite the sale, I think the food court will remain. As far as I'm concerned, the food court is not dying."

Big Box is connected via a sheltered pedestrian bridge to Jem and Jurong East MRT station, and supported by a large catchment of labour supply from the surrounding residential estates in Jurong, West Coast and Clementi.

Furthermore, with its location in Jurong Lake District, Singapore's second central business district, some have said it is ideal for logistics players, e-commerce fulfilment and warehousing companies.

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong said the location of Big Box is not optimal for retail business.

"They have so many competitors at Jurong East and there is an oversupply of retail, so it is not good to build even more retail at Big Box," he said.

"It also may not be a good location for logistics players, e-commerce and warehousing as the price (of buying the place), is more expensive as compared to Tuas or Pioneer Road."

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