COVID-19 and its impact to local LGBTQIA+ friendly businesses in Singapore

The outbreak of the contagious COVID-19 virus in the city of Wuhan towards the end of 2019 initiated an onset of changes for 2020 internationally. Within six months of the spread, over 500,000 people have contributed to the global death toll and the numbers did not seem to abate. 

Livelihood across the continents adopted new challenges and adapted to new norms with societies going on lockdown, employees working from home, and communities from the religious to independent groups ceasing activities in order to curb the rampant spread of the virus. This pandemic was akin to the Spanish Flu of 1918 and tactics such as a mass lockdown have been employed, contributing to decline of interactivity and business continuity. 


According to the World Economic Forum, the COVID-19 crisis has hit disproportionally hard especially on the LGBTQIA+ community and the marginalized population. Zooming into Singapore, a multi-faceted hub for business, education, and technology, local LGBTQIA+ businesses have also suffered significant impacts from the surprise attack of the disease outbreak. The new normalcy seems to have affected marginalized community in Singapore to a great extent. 

Local shop owner Bobby Luo who owns SUPER FREAK, a boutique fashion and gift store for Kings and Queens and the in-betweens commented that “business had initially dropped between 70% and 90% during the Covid-19 Circuit Breaker” between April and June 2020. The mitigated relaxation after the end of the lockdown saw the business improved only by 30% – 50%.

In the entertainment sector, ex-owner of Outbar, a local LGBTQIA+ bistro & pub along Neil Road, Elvin Poh, said that the pandemic acted as a “catalyst” for him to sell the business to new partners. Outbar remains in its current premise and is open for business, complying to local regulations. 

Even though the outlook seemed direly sordid for local LGBTQIA+ businesses, Bookseller Kenny Leck from BooksActually, an ally to the community, noted that the pandemic “oddly ended up better” as the closing down of the physical space meant lesser commitment to lease and the online platform led him to doing much better in sales. For Mr. Leck, he is now “in the mode of identifying which potentials and opportunities stemming from the online business” are appropriate, and the “strategy moving forward is to use the data and metrics coming from the online store in a meaningful way”. 

Perhaps, one of the positive outcomes of this pandemic is pushing companies – from small local businesses to large international corporations – to speed up the adoption and integration of technologies and the internet of things to meet 21st century consumer behaviours: online shopping and excessive dependence on the smart phone. 

Mr. Luo of SUPER FREAK said that in addition to producing their own in-house brands, they have also “focused heavily on the E-commerce channel and other digital platforms such as Instagram and Facebook” to reach out to audience across the island. 

To support local businesses with an inclination towards the E-commerce platform, Enterprise Singapore will provide entrepreneurs up to 80% grant and payouts up to S$10,000 to create a successful online store. Keen owners looking to migrate to or integrate their physical space with a digital one can tap on this perk to innovate!

The move to online media should come as no surprise and have been trending as the default mode of business interactivity since the dot com years. Events too! For the first time in 12 years, Pink Dot had taken to the virtual space as a respond to the outbreak, while working around lock down restrictions. Business meetings have also resulted in the proliferated use of Google Hangouts and ZOOM. If anything, the society as a whole has been ushered into a whole new paradigm overnight, for good. 


To keep local entertainment and pub businesses afloat, premises with an existing F&B license to operate as a bistro may allow limited customers to patronize up till 10:30 PM while observing social distancing and adhering to strict guidelines. Again, this is the new norm for the foreseeable future until Singapore’s government deem pilots of opening night clubs in the first quarter of 2021 safe and successful. 

The recent announcement by Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong to provide all citizens with the option of a COVID vaccine by the third quarter of 2021, is a news received with mixed feelings. However, inching towards 2021 seems generally more positive than negative for local entrepreneurs.  

For now, the climate for economic activities in Singapore is gradually looking good with loosening control across the island. Even in the events space, gatherings will be increased, and restaurants will allow up to a capacity of 8 persons – an improvement from the initial 5 pax per table restriction. 

While other parts of the world are still experiencing second and third waves from the COVID-19 virus, local business owners in Singapore should remain optimistic but vigilant in complying to measures that will only bode well for the sustainability of the economy – soon by the end of 2021. 


About the Author

Melvin Chew has been advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community, fighting apathy through stories on gender equality, diversity, and inclusion for over seven years. He is currently a Business Manager with DealStreetAsia and enjoys reading essays and watching TV. 


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