(Photo: The Straits Times)
More than 1,300 shops in Housing Board estates are set to receive about $29 million to spruce up – the latest in a move to help heartland businesses stay competitive.
The funding, which will be put aside for 1,335 shops across 17 neighbourhoods, comes under the HDB's Revitalisation of Shops (ROS) scheme. This was introduced in 2007 to subsidise upgrading works and promotional events for heartland retailers.
Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday stressed the importance of keeping such shops alive.
They not only provide convenience and affordability, but also create a sense of community and belonging, he said.
"Many of them have been here for many years," said Mr Lee, who was visiting Geylang East Central – one of the sites that will be receiving the latest funding.
"So there's a sense of being back home, (of) familiar surroundings, and friendly faces of shopkeepers add to that sense of homeliness.
"We want to help our heartland shops do well, inject vitality in the neighbourhood, because they also employ many Singaporeans."
The 17 sites include neighbourhoods in Jurong East, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio and Bedok.
Of these, seven sites will receive co-funding from the HDB to upgrade common areas and to carry out promotional events. Six areas will receive funding only for upgrading and four will be funded only for promotional events.
Merchants' associations from each site had applied for the scheme and indicated whether they wanted common area upgrading, promotional events, or both.
This is the seventh batch under the ROS scheme, and the most costly, not least because of funding enhancements announced in May.
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 in Circuit Road, Keat Hong Shopping Centre and Bedok Reservoir Road.
In order for the scheme to kick in, however, all shops in the neighbourhood must 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 of participating.
He hopes the makeover will attract not only younger customers but also younger shop owners.
"Hopefully, we can all get new awnings, flooring and brighter lights in 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."
Jurong East resident Alan Choong, 27, is looking forward to the HDB shops near his home getting a makeover.
"I still shop there for toiletries and the occasional snack on the way home. It is convenient and usually more affordable than shopping at malls," said the art director.
"It will be nice to see these smaller shops get a bit of help. They give the neighbourhood character."
First published in The Straits Times