When the circuit breaker was announced last Friday, we all saw how snaking queues formed once more at supermarkets. Photographs of empty shelves at supermarkets started to go viral and even the long line of people just standing outside of IKEA Alexandra with no regard to the government’s plea of social distancing got rapped on social media.

Normally, I do my monthly grocery shopping at FairPrice. But I’ve found a better place to shop during this circuit breaker period – my local neighbourhood provision shop.

Let me explain.

Till 4 May, wholesale markets, wet markets, supermarkets and provision shops will still be open as they are part of the essential services that Singaporeans need during this period.

Reminders to keep a safe distance on walls and by markings on the floor

Image source: M Syazanna

When I visited my “downstairs mamak shop” a day before the circuit breaker started, there were still a handful of customers queuing (1 metre apart) for daily necessities. None of them had more than one basket. I figured these customers were likely fellow neighbours living in the same estate.

I asked an elderly man why he was shopping here instead of the bigger Prime supermarket that was only a few blocks down the road. He said: “I don’t want to queue so long. Not many people here.”

When it was my turn to pay, the Indian lady shopkeeper gave me a smile.

“No children today?” she asked.

“No, (they are) at home,” I replied casually.

I asked the shopkeeper whether she had collected her cloth mask from the RC, and she replied that she was waiting for her son to pass it to her. I thanked her and smiled.

Looking around, I saw my fellow neighbours wearing the same black cloth mask I had on. In a flash of mischievousness, I thought that we probably looked like a gang of robbers trying to rob the mamak shop.  But that day, it wasn’t a bond of banditry that I felt, but a sense of solidarity in our diligence to protect ourselves and others around us.

As I left the compact shop, I realised that there was a marked difference in my experience shopping there as compared to a supermarket chain or even on e-commerce sites such as RedMart.

It was the human connection.

After working from home for the last two weeks, the littlest bit of face-to-face conversation (even from behind a mask) with the elderly uncle and a friendly shopkeeper lifted my mood. Going out for fresh air (even if it was just to the void deck) helped as well.

A medley of fruits and vegetables on display

Image source: M Syazanna

At the provision store, there was no crowd to worry about. Everyone (all seven of us) was cordial and waited for our turn to pick out groceries, especially in the small narrow aisles. And for those worried about supplies, you’d be pleased to know that even after we were done shopping, there were still plenty of fruits and vegetables left.

My experience is very unlike what Reddit Singapore user, u/maenadery, shared in a post: “I chatted with the lady running the mala stall at the food court from behind the safety of our masks while my order was being made, and she said she’d ordered groceries online, but it still hasn’t arrived, because they were so back-logged. She also said she didn’t dare to go to the supermarket because it was just so crowded and so many people don’t wear masks, so she’s afraid she might get infected. I told her she was smart not to do so because her logic was sound and that I’ll be still coming to dabao food from her.”

With some online grocery stores facing difficulty in fulfilling customers’ orders due to high demand and shortage of delivery providers, why not shop local instead?

Buy from your local small business owners

Image source: M Syazanna

Self-employed and small business owners are eligible for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs). However, in this circuit breaker period when everyone should stay at home as much as possible, every little sale will help your neighbourhood shop’s auntie or uncle tide over the plunge in earnings.

We are told to stay at our homes if we don’t need to go out. Seen in another way, we should treasure whatever little interactions we have when we do go out for supplies. It is even more important now to show neighbourliness to those living near us. That includes local shop owners or coffeeshop hawkers or wet market vendors who are keeping their stores open so we don’t have to worry about running out of food and daily necessities.

To help some of our neighbours who are busy working from home or can’t leave their children home alone due to childcare centre closures, we could even offer to buy household items or food from the neighbourhood shops. Even if we can’t meet physically, surely, we can overcome this crisis if neighbours find more ways to support one another.

What’s your experience at your local neighbourhood shop? Write in to us!

If you like what you read, follow us on Twitter and Telegram to get the latest updates.