A programme that supports aspiring hawkers by offering stall rentals at significantly lower rates has seen “very positive response” with over 40 applicants since its introduction in February.
Encouraged by the demand, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will add two more stalls to the Incubation Stall Programme, bringing the total to 15, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor on Wednesday (10 October).
Khor was giving an update on the programme during a visit to Bukit Merah Central Food Centre and Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre where three of the stalls are located.
A total of 12 aspiring hawkers have taken part in the programme thus far, which allows them to rent a stall at half the market rent over a six-month period.
The stalls, 10 of which are now occupied, also come prefitted with basic equipment, such as shelves, worktops, freezer-chillers, and sinks.
The two new stalls will be located at Chinatown Complex Food Centre (Blk 355 Smith Street), bringing the total number of stalls under the programme at the location to five.
The criteria for applicants to be eligible for the programme includes having no prior experience in managing or operating a food stall or shop, attending an introductory course to hawker business at the Institute of Technical Education or other equivalent courses, as well as passing a food tasting session.
Khor noted that the programme has been particularly popular among young Singaporeans looking to switch careers. The average age of applicants is 34, with the youngest at 27 years old.
“Because this programme is still quite new, we will continue to monitor the take-up rate as well as get feedback from the earlier batches of incubation store holders, before we decide whether we should add more,” she added.
While Khor also mentioned that the authorities are looking at making a decision about long-term plans for the programme, she did not elaborate on them. She noted that as the programme is still “in its infancy”.
Of the first three applicants who joined the programme when it started, one – who is now in the midst of looking for a permanent store – has been granted an extension till April next year. The other two have stopped working as hawkers.
Poh Ying Min, 29, one of the two incubation stall holders at Bukit Merah Central, said that she was looking around for a stall for over a year but had been deterred by high rental prices.
The programme attracted the former M1 senior marketing executive as it allowed her to rent a stall monthly at $600 (before GST) – or half of the $1,200 market rate – over a six-month period. In July, she set up salad stall The Green Bowl with the help of the programme.
“It’s definitely tough but there is the sense of satisfaction,” said Poh, who now works from 7am to 5pm during weekdays and comes into the stall on weekends to prepare for the next business day.
Poh is, however, keeping her options open after the end of the scheme.
“The job is doable, but whether am I going to continue will be determined by a lot of factors,” said Poh, who now earns lesser than what she used to at her former job where she drew a monthly salary of over $3,000.
At least five other companies and organisations are also running similar programmes in new hawker centres, including Timbre+Hawkers, OTMH, NTUC Foodfare Cooperative, Fei Siong Social Enterprise, and Hawker Management.
Hoe Cherh Inn, 40, who runs the only incubation stall at Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre since July, also shared a similar sentiment.
The former Singapore Post delivery man decided to make a career switch to selling Hainanese chicken rice to give his family a better life.
As a hawker, Hoe works from 6am to 7pm and has only made enough to cover his costs for the past three months. Despite the challenges, Hoe said he is happy with being the boss of his own stall. He pays a monthly rental of $700 (before GST) – or half of the $1,400 market rate – under the programme.
The business owner, however, remains practical.
“Business is competitive as this market already has four chicken rice stalls,” said Hoe. “I would want to continue the trade, but this will depend on circumstances and how good the business is.
“I still have a family to feed.”
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