Hutchison Whampoa

Social enterprise forced out by rent, competition

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 June, 2011, 12:00am

An organic grocer in Discovery Bay which helps rehabilitate those recovering from mental illness will close at the end of the month, forced out by high rent and competition from the city's supermarket duopoly.

The New Life Organic Shop has, for three years, sold fresh fruit and vegetables in competition with the local Wellcome and ParknShop supermarkets.

But it is also part of a programme to get people recovering from mental illness back into society.

They are given hands-on experience at the shop to learn skills and interact with others. The store employs two staff and three trainees, all of whom are recovering from mental illnesses.

A spokeswoman for the shop said its three-year lease was coming to an end this month and since it was unable to meet the rental payments it would have to close on June 30.

'Business is hard, especially since there's a ParknShop next door,' the spokeswoman said.

There has been no rental increase. The shop asked for a reduction in rent but did not hear back from Hong Kong Resort International, which rents out spaces at the Discovery Bay Plaza where the shop is located.

The social enterprise is run by the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, a non-profit, non-governmental group that aims to provide 'comprehensive recovery services' for people with mental illnesses, to facilitate integration and help them become financially independent.

'It's a shame that the store is closing and moving away because of rent problems,' said Jill Walgren, a regular customer who lives in Discovery Bay.

Walgren works with special-needs children and adults and said the shop was a great place for people trying to re-enter society.

She said Hong Kong Resort International could set a good corporate example by renting the shop to the group for free.

Walgren also noted, in an e-mail to the South China Morning Post, that there were a number of stores in the premises that were lying vacant so rental space in the plaza did not appear to be at a premium.

'Social enterprises like this should be encouraged,' she said.

New Life has opened a new store under the name FarmFresh 330 in the Tai Hang area near Causeway Bay.

The five employees from the Discovery Bay shop will be transferred to the new store.