PasarBella, based on the concept of a farmers' market

ONE of the upcoming attractions at The Grandstand (the former Turf City) is a new retail concept in Singapore. Called PasarBella, it is inspired by the famous markets in major cities around the world, such as the Borough Market in London, Pike Place Market in Seattle, Chelsea Market in Manhattan and Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, according to its co-creator, Singaporean businessman Vince Howe of Soul Group.

PasarBella will occupy 30,000 sq ft at The Grandstand and is scheduled to open next February or March. The concept for PasarBella took three years to realise, says Howe. Since graduating from university in Melbourne, he and his wife have travelled extensively. They enjoyed visiting the various markets in the cities they travelled to in Australia and other countries such as the UK, US and Japan. When they returned to Singapore, Howe's wife asked, "Why isn't there such a market in Singapore?"

The couple decided to replicate the concept of a farmers' market in Singapore. "Many people of our generation are well travelled and, will, therefore appreciate a marketplace like this," says Howe. So, the couple drew up a proposal and started hunting for a suitable location, but to no avail.

The idea was was shelved until Benson Tan, CEO of Cogent Land Capital, a personal friend of Howe's, gave him a tour of The Grandstand several months ago. While touring a cavernous room of 30,000 sq ft, Howe asked Tan what the space was going to be used for. At the time, the space wasn't leased yet, but given its size, Tan figured it would be most suitable for either an electronics or furniture mall. "I suddenly remembered this [idea of starting a farmers' market]," says Howe, who then invited Tan to his home to show him the proposal he had formulated.

Tan was amazed, recounts Howe. Naturally, Howe negotiated with his friend for a reasonable rent. "I want to have the best gourmet food under one roof," he says. To inspire his team, and to ensure that the ambience created would be authentic, they — the design architect, contractor and branding manager as well as finance personnel — went on a whirlwind tour of some of the famous farmers' markets around the world. "We went to Borough, Victoria and Pike Place," says Howe.

He is investing S$5 million in PasarBella, which includes fitting out the stalls and bringing the right variety of food and service providers. The space is divided into different sections, such as those for meat and poultry, fromagerie, seafood, processed food, vegetables and fruit, as well as organic food. "For many of the food stalls, you can buy the ingredients and choose to get them cooked and eaten on the spot, or take them home to be cooked later," says Howe.

There will be a deli, a wine section, as well as a coffee specialist who sells nothing but coffee beans, roasted over an antique coffee-bean roaster. Other attractions include a traditional barber shop, a pet shop and outlets selling barbecue equipment, toys and aromatherapy products. "Many of the purveyors are from Australia, and a lot of them don't have a presence in Singapore yet," says Howe.

PasarBella currently has 79 stalls. But when it finally opens, the number may be down to just over 50 as some of the operators want more than one unit. "Just based on the invited tenants coming from Australia, the UK and Japan, 50% of the space is already taken up," says Howe. As far as possible, he wants the stallholders to be individual entrepreneurs rather than conglomerates. The individual stallholders, however, will have to obtain an import licence from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

While Howe is the tenant of the 30,000 sq ft space occupied by PasarBella, he will sub-let the individual stalls to stallholders and charge them a base rent. He intends to keep the base rent low in order to attract the best people. "This project is not about making a huge profit, but it's about creating something new in Singapore," he says.

This story first appeared in The Edge Singapore weekly edition of Dec 3-9, 2012.

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