Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomesingaporeFairPrice supermarket at Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru to close after Oct...

FairPrice supermarket at Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru to close after Oct 1

SINGAPORE – The signs are all there: empty or near-empty shelves, and a small notice at the OCBC ATM outside the store announcing that it will cease operation “due to store closure”.

The FairPrice supermarket at the Enabling Village (EV) in Lengkok Bahru will close its doors after its last day on Oct 1.

The FairPrice Group confirmed the closure when contacted by The Straits Times, but did not give a reason for its exit.

The store has the distinction of being FairPrice’s first and only “Enabled Store” designed to meet the needs of Singapore’s rapidly ageing population, and to support persons with disabilities (PWDs) to live actively and independently.

It was officially launched on Dec 2, 2015 together with EV, an integrated community space for people with disabilities, and an initiative by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, then chief executive of NTUC FairPrice, said the outlet was part of the supermarket chain’s efforts in striving to be a retailer with heart, and staying true to its social mission of serving various segments of the community through innovative retail formats and offerings.

The supermarket giant said then that with the number of seniors in Singapore expected to grow to more than 900,000 by 2030, and given the more than 77,200 with disabilities above the age of 18 in 2015, the store was meant to make shopping more seamless for these segments of society.

The store has call buttons located at the entrance and along store aisles to offer assistance, magnifying glasses at every aisle to help customers read product labels, wheelchair-friendly trolleys, easy-to-read price tags, and merchandise shelves customised to ideal heights for easy reach by seniors and wheelchair users.

It also has a rest area for shoppers, wider check-out lanes, emergency fire alarm, and automated external defibrillator to cater for medical emergencies.

Service staff at the store also underwent a specially developed training programme to help them understand and anticipate the needs of senior customers, recognise senior-related ailments such as dementia, as well as empathise with the difficulties that seniors may encounter so they could communicate and respond better to their needs.

In response to ST’s queries, a FairPrice Group spokesman said the group remains committed to training and providing job opportunities for PWDs, and has taken learnings from its eight-year partnership with EV and executed them across its network.

“Over the last eight years, in partnership with EV, our front liners have been availed training on how to guide and mentor PWDs,” said the spokesman.

“As an enhancement to trainees from EV, they will now be able to access training at a store closest to their homes. This cuts down travelling time, and also embeds trainees in their immediate community and connects them to the neighbourhood social networks.” 

The FairPrice Group has been engaging PWDs since 1983, and has successfully trained and employed many over the years.

At present, it employs 26 PWDs in various functions across its supermarkets, two of whom are employed at the EV store. Both employees will be redeployed to other stores following the closure.

“We will continue to stay true to our social mission of serving various segments of the community by evolving our retail formats and offerings to support our seniors and PWDs,” said the spokesman, adding that customers can visit the two closest FairPrice stores at Bukit Merah Central and Alexandra View Artra.

Ms Emily Ong, SG Enable’s director for Enabling Village and strategy and innovation, told ST that one core aspect of EV’s model has been its role as an incubator and test bed for new inclusive business prototypes and accessibility features.

“We take pride in having pioneered several first-of-its-kind initiatives in Singapore, each leaving a significant mark on the path to greater inclusion,” she said, adding that the FairPrice supermarket at EV has made grocery shopping more inclusive for seniors and PWDs, by testing accessibility features and serving as a pilot training facility for PWDs.

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Construction for a four-storey extension to EV is currently under way, with completion expected by the end of 2024.

The village is always on the lookout for like-minded tenant partners who share its objectives and vision for a more inclusive society, she said.

She added: “EV remains dedicated to driving inclusion, fostering connectedness, and promoting inclusive enterprises. While some businesses transition out of our incubator space due to evolving needs, our purpose stays true to be a catalyst for innovation and the beacon of inclusion.”

When ST visited the outlet on Sunday and Monday afternoon, it was quiet except for a few customers.

Mr Syawal Rizwan, a 20-year-old waiting for his national service enlistment, did not know about the store’s impending closure.

He lives in a rental flat across the street, and visits the supermarket two to three times monthly to buy groceries for his family. He also shops online.

“It will be quite hard for us, like when we need to buy urgent stuff,” he said. “I think I will go to the nearby wet market instead.”

A 75-year-old man who wants to be known only as Mr K. L. Quah also did not know that the store will shutter soon, but said he was not surprised given the low footfall.

He drives to the outlet from his five-room flat in Rumah Tinggi to shop for his groceries once weekly.

Mr Quah, who said he is unemployed, will visit the other outlets nearby at Bukit Merah Central and Brickworks.

“They also need to make a profit,” he said. “I don’t think the outlet makes much money as there are very few customers.”

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