PasarBella 'needs to prove itself'

PasarBella 'needs to prove itself'

Huber's Deli, one of the first vendors to set up shop at PasarBella, Singapore's first permanent farmers' market, has moved out due to poor business.

Others which have also left in a bid to cut losses include waffle shop Bite-Sized Monster, in March; and Caria, a shop which specialised in spices, olive oil and wine from Turkey, in February.

Straits Organic, owned by wine retail chain and distributor The Straits Wine Company, is in talks to end its lease. It has been open for about a year.

Still, the management of the market says it has new offerings, tenants and marketing plans.

For instance, taking over the space occupied by Huber's Deli will be The Providore, which will be opening a deli and a bakery. Outside PasarBella's North entrance, it will also open an all-day dining restaurant in a newly built 2,000 sq ft space.

The marketplace at the former Turf City has almost 40 stalls and three vacant spaces. Stalls sell everything from artisan coffee and Russian-style cakes to Caribbean fare and sushi.

Vendors here have long bemoaned the poor sales and low traffic on weekdays. They say more needs to be done to ramp up weekday footfall.

While the marketplace is bustling on weekends, it is a "ghost town" on weekdays, vendors say. Running a roaring weekend trade alone is not sustainable, they add. Business on weekends, they say, can be about five to 10 times better than on weekdays.

Each tenant's lease is usually for two years. Vendors would not divulge how much rent they pay.

Stalls there opened progressively from the start of last year. The market officially opened last May.

Huber's Deli, a specialist shop selling cold cuts and gourmet hot dogs, an offshoot of Huber's Butchery in Dempsey Hill, moved out on Monday after a year of operations. It occupied two units there.

It might have had long queues for its hot dogs on weekends but weekdays were quiet. Mr Andre Huber, 34, its director, adds: "We stood to lose more money staying open than if we were to keep the stall closed and pay empty rent."

Mrs Janice Lim, 68, who handles operations for The Straits Wine Company, echoes his sentiments. She adds: "During the week, we sometimes have no sales at all and, when we do, at times they don't even add up to $100.

"Staff salaries and expenses surpass the rental. Some staff refuse to work there, and our sommeliers see no point being there because of poor sales."

Despite complaints of poor business and traffic, some are sticking it out.

Da Paolo Gastronomia, for one, is staying put. Its chief executive Guillaume Pichoir, 40, says: "We like the PasarBella concept and feel it is a great fit for our brand."

Changes in the market's management over the last few months have been for the better, with vendors saying things are looking brighter.

To bring more life and buzz, PasarBella has lined up new strategies to raise awareness, carved out a space dedicated to events and wooed some potential new-to-market food and beverage brands from overseas, its director Clovis Lim, 25, says.

In fact, in the last two months, vendors have noticed increased traffic of between 20 per cent and 30 per cent on weekdays.

Sales at Sea Salt, a Caribbean stall, rose by about 30 per cent over the last two months, its owner Ivan Agramonte, 39, says.

The higher traffic and increased sales, Mr Lim says, can be partly attributed to its pop-up event at the iLight festival at Marina Bay. The pop-up, which showcased its vendors and other complementary vendors, he says, was "packed every night".

He also realised PasarBella's layout - interspersing retail components with food stalls, though popular in farmers' markets overseas - has not worked well here. He has decided to have two sections - one mostly for cooked food, and the other mainly for retail, with some coffee and patisserie offerings.

The management also recently hired Ms Jane Glascow, 53, better known for starting Singapore's first weekend farmers' market at Loewen Gardens. She joined PasarBella as its market manager in January and engages with tenants to help them with their offerings, displays and other issues.

New marketing approaches include hanging chopping board-shaped flyers on the door handles of cars in surrounding areas to make diners aware that PasarBella is open throughout the week, with ample free parking. Some 20,000 flyers will be hung on car doors over the next two weeks.

There are also plans to open smaller PasarBella satellites in other parts of Singapore by next year. These aim to be one-stop shops for people to pick up things to cook at home.

But vendors warn that the clock is ticking for the management to prove itself, increase visitorship and attract interesting offerings to PasarBella.

Mr Sean Lai, 47, owner of Le Patio, which sells paella and crepes, says: "The management has less than half a year to convince vendors to stay."

This article was published on May 2 in The Straits Times.

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