Singapore

First hawker centre managed by social enterprise shuts doors

Published: 4:02 AM, November 14, 2013
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SINGAPORE — Poor visibility and a lack of financial support forced the first hawker centre run by a social enterprise to shut its doors about two weeks ago.

Officially opened in February, social enterprise Best of Asia had pushed for a different business model at the hawker centre, Kampung@Simpang Bedok, where some stall-holders held joint ventures with the social enterprise while others were paid salaries till they could afford to own the stalls.

Even though the listed rental was S$3,288, most of the tenants there paid monthly rents in the range of S$1,500 to S$2,400, TODAY understands. Almost all tenants enjoyed some form of subsidy and some only paid rents when they could afford it.

The 32-stall facility at Bedok Market Place was also crowded out by stiff competition in the area. There are at least nine eateries which mainly sell Chinese, Malay and Western cuisine on the ground floor surrounding Kampung@Simpang Bedok. Patrons shunned the private hawker centre, which was located on the second floor and had no lift access.

A director of Sedap Corner, one of the many eateries in the area, also noticed the thin crowds. “There is good food upstairs ... but it’s a pity because nobody knows. It’s also quiet up there during the weekends,” he said.

Stalls also kept changing according to Mrs Fasya Syarielf, a teacher. “I went there only twice, but I prefer the food downstairs,” she said.

Kampung@Simpang Bedok opened with much fanfare after a government-appointed hawker centre consultation panel recommended that social enterprises step in to run such centres here, to keep food prices affordable for the community and provide jobs for the disadvantaged.

Ms Elim Chew, who chaired the consultation panel, only found out about the problems the social enterprise was facing about a month ago, when she dropped by for a meal.

She added that they were trying to negotiate for lower rents from the landlords then, to keep the business going. “It takes a lot to get it to work, because you are a business but at the same time you are helping people. How (then) do you put it all together?” she said.

Problems such as high costs from rentals, the lack of manpower and policies can disrupt the business, she said. For instance, she pointed out that the management initially had difficulty, obtaining permits for performances at the hawker centre.

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