SINGAPORE - In an unprecedented move, food centre operator Kopitiam has slashed rentals for stallholders at Sengkang's first wet market and food centre by as much 70 per cent.
But this comes with strings attached - stall owners must, on their part, agree to lower food prices for consumers.
For the last two months, fish-soup stall owner Zeng Li Zhen has been paying about $3,300 each month in rent for her space in Kopitiam Square, according to a report by Lianhe Wanbao yesterday. This is about $8,000 down from her previous rent.
But, in return, she has to sell a bowl of fish soup, for example, at $4.20, instead of its previous price of $5.
Ms Doris Ong, who opened a Western food stall there more than a month ago, told My Paper that her monthly rent is set at about $2,000, a rate that is "much cheaper than that at many other food centres".
A spokesman for Renaissance Properties, a Kopitiam subsidiary which runs the food centre, said that the move was part of a "marketing campaign" designed to meet "rising demand", as more Housing Board flats have come up in the Sengkang and Punggol area.
"Stall owners are strongly encouraged to lower their pricing to the effect, that as a whole, a substantial number of stalls are selling cheap and affordable food to cater to the public's needs," she said.
For stall owners who have to charge higher prices due to more expensive ingredients, Kopitiam will conduct separate reviews.
Added the spokesman: "Not only have we seen business improving for stall owners, but (the campaign) has also attracted some new tenants, and more will come."
While Kopitiam's move has come as a "surprise" for the chairmen of two associations representing over 700 shops, it was one that they lauded for giving businesses a helping hand.
Mr Hong Poh Hin, chairman of Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association, said that offering lower rents would be "a draw for stall owners and customers alike".
Mr Thomas Foo, chairman of Kheng Keow Coffee Merchants Restaurant and Bar-Owners Association, hopes that this will be a precedent for other coffee shops and food centres.
When My Paper visited Kopitiam Square last evening, however, only about 23 of the 60 food stalls appeared to be up and running.
A 60-year-old stall owner, who declined to be named, noted that crowds have been thin at the food centre, even at dinnertime.
His rental costs have been halved to about $3,000 each month since last December, when he renewed his lease for another year.
"We'll try for another year," he said. "Hopefully, the lower prices will bring in more customers."
Other stallholders My Paper spoke to agreed that business there has been poor.
Recent reports had pointed out that the majority of stalls there were unoccupied due to high rents and a lack of customers.
While the food centre opened to much fanfare in 2009, Sengkang residents had also expressed concern over high food prices.
This is because Renaissance Properties had won the tender to run the food centre at $500,100 a month - a figure more than double the next highest bidder's offer, and one that was expected to translate into higher rent and food prices.
Within a year of opening, 15 food stalls had left the food centre.
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