By Jessica Lim & Leow Si Wan
FOR 35 years, Serangoon Gardens residents have been shopping at the FairPrice supermarket at the Serangoon Gardens Village complex.
They are so familiar with the place that they know the names of all the staff, give them Chinese New Year cookies and souvenirs from overseas, share recipes and even linger after grocery trips for lengthy chit-chats.
But those days are over - albeit temporarily - as the mall was shuttered earlier this month. In an unprecedented move, the FairPrice supermarket chain staged a farewell party yesterday for staff and customers in which more than 100 people showed up.
Cameras clicked, shrieks rang out, tears flowed, and at the end of the two-hour event, all present joined in for a chorus of Auld Lang Syne.
Apart from throwing the party, FairPrice took another unusual step: It will pull out all the stops to help residents sort out their grocery needs till the supermarket returns next year.
It will launch a free shuttle bus which will take passengers from five pick-up points in the neighbourhood to the Hougang Point FairPrice outlet, a 20-minute drive away.
The chain will also widen the selection of food available at its FairPrice Express store at the Esso station along Lorong Chuan to help residents out, said FairPrice managing director Seah Kian Peng.
The moves could not come sooner for residents affected by the closure of the supermarket, which opened in 1974.
'There is no other supermarket nearby,' said retiree Sally Tan, 67, who lives a 10-minute walk away from the Serangoon Gardens Village complex at Portchester Avenue, where the store used to be.
'Now I have to lug heavy bags of rice back from Ang Mo Kio.'
Along with the supermarket, about 30 other shops and eateries were closed as the mall within which they were housed, and the old Paramount Theatre will be renovated.
Businesses in the area said the closure affects them. Some said customers from all around the island used to patronise the mall because it was the centre of the laid-back culture of Serangoon Gardens, with cafes and convenience stores.
With it gone, takings at nearby shops have dropped. The owner of Serangoon Gardens Hainanese Roasted Chicken & Duck Rice, MrLeong Mun Chong, 53, said business has fallen by 40 per cent since the mall shut.
Mr Leong, who used to sell 100 plates of chicken and duck rice daily, said: 'In the past, people would go to the supermarket to shop, then to my stall to eat. Now they don't even come.'
But other retailers in the area said business was fine. The Cold Storage Speciality outlet at Serangoon Garden Way has seen an 'increase of more than 20 per cent in customer count' since the FairPrice outlet closed, said its spokesman.
Store owners at the wet market have also seen their business rise.
'This is a chance for us to get more customers,' said vegetable store owner Jimmy Koh, 36.
'But I wish there was no shuttle bus to take the customers away from Serangoon Gardens.'
Refurbishment work on the new mall will start next week, said developer Edmund Chye, 46, whose late father owned the Paramount Theatre, which was located at the site.
The $40 million revamp will see a spanking new building that will be opened by the third quarter of next year, and will include a new FairPrice outlet and a DBS Bank. The other tenants are being finalised, said Mr Chye.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.