2020 will be the year marked by Covid-19. Beyond the foremost issue of public health, the virus outbreak has also pervaded many other areas like society and businesses.
Survival is especially challenging in retail and F&B, where safe distancing measures inevitably result in a plunge in footfall.
Rental and manpower costs also remain a difficulty for many operators, as even rebates from the Government may not be enough relief to tide them through these unprecedented times.
In just the first few months of the year, we’ve already seen a few closures.
Besides impacts from Covid-19, some of these businesses have also grappled with falling traction over a longer period of time, due to their own variety of complex factors.
As we brace ourselves for a long struggle with Covid-19, we may also have to bid farewell to more businesses throughout the year.
1. Ministry Of Food
Boasting 80 restaurants in its heyday, homegrown chain Ministry of Food (MOF), which owns nine F&B brands, is now left with 26 outlets in 2020.
News of MOF’s massive downsizing was brought to light after a sudden closure of five outlets over the span of one weekend in late February.
Some of them, such as Ju Hao at Bukit Panjang Plaza and MOF My Izakaya at Lot One, were repossessed by their landlord as the company failed to pay rent.
However, MOF had actually been shutting down restaurants even before that.
In 2019, it closed about 40 outlets in a “major revamp” that supposedly helped the business turn operationally profitable in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to help MOF withstand its continuing financial troubles.
MOF founder Lena Sim has been facing a lawsuit from the owners of a Korean restaurant chain, after a failed business deal to acquire their brands in 2017. She is being sued for an outstanding payment of $4.8 million.
To add to that, business has taken a bigger hit since the Covid-19 outbreak, with some outlets suffering up to 90 per cent drops in sales.
2. Breko Cafe
Breko Cafe has been a mainstay in Holland Village for nearly 20 years, offering diners a cosy hangout spot with a wide array of food and drinks.
Customers were shocked when it announced its closure in March 2020, especially fans who said they “grew up with” the cafe.
Breko Cafe revealed in a Facebook post that it has experienced “too many difficult periods” over the business’ lifespan.
Despite surviving those previous ordeals, it succumbed to its struggles this time and officially closed on 1 April.
While it didn’t mention a reason for the closure, one can guess that customers have been scarce for the past few months as people avoid social gatherings during this time.
With significant impacts to revenue, the cafe would not have been able to sustain itself in the long run, seeing as the coronavirus situation is not going away anytime soon.
In the post, Breko added that it hopes to reopen in another location in the future.
3. Habitat by Honestbee
In light of the Covid-19 outbreak, honestbee witnessed a “significant reduction in walk-in traffic” at its dining and supermarket retail concept, habitat.
It first announced plans to take a temporary halt on habitat’s operations until 23 February.
Closer to this date, the company then said it would further extend its closure to 29 February.
In spite of that, it doesn’t seem like habitat is reopening anytime soon.
For one thing, its landlord LHN Space Resources has been unwilling to extend habitat’s lease, and is now able to reclaim the space as honestbee has lost court protection against debtors.
It was also reported that furniture, fixtures and equipment were being cleared out of habitat’s premises in early March, leaving the site with nothing but empty shelves.
Sharing about his plans to save the troubled business, honestbee CEO Ong Lay Ann said he will pivot to a quick-service restaurant serving pizza instead, and focus on restarting its online grocery delivery business in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
Hong Kong lifestyle retailer Kapok first arrived in Singapore with a pop-up store in TANGS in 2012.
Following a slew of successful pop-ups, the multi-label brand decided to set up a permanent location.
It became best known for its flagship store at National Design Centre (NDC), where its curation of artsy brands from Singapore and around the world was a fitting addition to the cultural district.
However, in March, Kapok began running a farewell sale throughout the month to clear its inventory of consignment brands. According to its Facebook posts, it officially closed shop on 31 March 2020.
Due to the nature of its location, tourists likely made up a large portion of Kapok NDC’s visitors.
While it may not be able to bear the burden of high rental costs in this current climate, Kapok has shifted to a fully-online model and is maintaining its presence here by offering free shipping to Singapore.
5. Liang Court
Shoppers also bid farewell to Liang Court, an iconic shopping mall in Clarke Quay since 1984, as it carried out its last day of operations on 31 March 2020.
Redevelopment plans were released last year, after City Developments Limited and CapitaLand bought over the property for S$400 million.
It will be transformed into an integrated development with residential towers, a hotel and a commercial component.
Although tenants were only asked to vacate by the mall’s closing date, Liang Court already had many unoccupied stores before then.
Over the years, the shopping mall no longer had a strong appeal as it fell behind newer and trendier developments in the bustling district known for its nightlife.
Liang Court was, however, popular among the Japanese community with its many Japanese restaurants and Japanese stores like Meidi-Ya.
While Meidi-Ya has closed along with the mall, shoppers may be relieved to know that it is opening a new two-storey outlet at Millennia Walk later this year.
6. Isetan at Westgate
Japanese department store Isetan also closed its Westgate outlet on 31 March, a major two-storey store that was estimated to take up around 60,000 sq ft.
The Westgate outlet was making a loss amid tough retail competition and poor sales numbers.
As such, Isetan was unable to come to an agreement with its landlord JG Trustee to renew its lease ending in December 2019.
While it could not hold on to the Westgate outlet, Isetan is putting its efforts into revamping its flagship store in Shaw House along Orchard Road.
The company has invested $12 million to convert the space into a modern lifestyle concept with a greater emphasis on beauty and athleisure.
7. Belimbing Superstar
In January, sister company of The Coconut Club, Belimbing Superstar, announced its immediate closure.
The Peranakan-style economic rice eatery opened at Ann Siang Hill only five months before that in August 2019.
Just three weeks after its opening, its co-founder Lee Eng Su suddenly passed away in September, at the age of 40.
Eng Su’s cousin, Ian Lee, is the director of The Main Squeeze, the hospitality group that operates both Belimbing Superstar and The Coconut Club.
He told 8Days that he decided to shut down Belimbing Superstar as he was “not confident that it would be a viable business”, and wanted to focus on ensuring that The Coconut Club would continue to serve “the highest quality food” instead.
He added that Belimbing Superstar was not profitable despite their staff’s utmost efforts over the five months.
“We had great reviews, but we just didn’t have enough customers. That’s the reality. It was a strain on our limited resources,” he said.