I spent most of my teenage years being a mall rat on Orchard Road, playing arcade games at E-Zone and the Orchard Plaza arcade, buying Auntie Anne’s pretzels at Ngee Ann City and browsing pirated Mambo t-shirts at Far East Plaza.
But these days, like me, many of the Singaporeans who spent their childhoods on the shopping belt refuse to waste a single weekend on Orchard Road because it’s grown tired, boring and clogged with H&Ms and Uniqlos.
While “experts” have been throwing out suggestions to revitalise the shopping belt by pedestrianising the street and hiring street performers to sing and dance, everybody else knows it’s not going to work.
The only thing that could save Orchard Road is to get rid of the H&Ms, Uniqlos, Mangos and Zaras and court some tenants people actually find interesting. Of course, doing so would also involve lowering rents so that shops not owned by huge corporations have a fighting chance of setting up, but that’s a story for another day.
Here are five types of tenants we’d like to see on Orchard Road.
Once upon a time, Far East Plaza was a favourite hangout of teenagers and ah bengs/lians all over the country. With its tattoo parlours, piercing studios and alternative hair salons, it had a grungy appeal. But they weren’t the only ones housing independent boutiques. Even the mainstream malls like Wisma Atria had their fair share of small shops opened by determined local entrepreneurs.
These days, Far East Plaza seems to have become a favourite hangout of dustballs, judging by the number of empty units, and most of the newer malls have been taken over by the same boring brands you see not just on Orchard Road, but also in an increasing number of new heartland malls.
Bringing back independent boutiques and smaller brands might make people actually want to shop on Orchard Road once again.
Orchard Road is all about buying clothes, shoes, and accessories. But God knows we can buy enough of those online.
Singaporeans are starting to find more joy in paying to pursue interests and experiences than simply accumulating stuff. That might signal that it’s time to court tenants retailing hobby-related items.
For instance, more and more Singaporeans are now fans of Euro board games, which has led to a slew of board game shops opening all over the island, including Battle Bunker at Bugis Plus. And while Orchard Road still boasts Games@PI on the 3rd floor of Midpoint Orchard, surely Orchard Road can handle a SECOND really good board game shop? In-store gaming events might be able to convince even more customers to head to town.
In-store classes and experiences
Singaporeans no longer want to spend hours window shopping on Orchard Road. But what might convince people to make a trip to the Orchard area would be a specific event or activity. And no, we don’t mean some lame pedestrian night, but something which targets a niche audience with specific interests.
For instance, MMA is big in Singapore right now, and MMA gyms have been able to afford paying rent for spaces on prime land. Evolve MMA maintains a large spaces at Far East Square and Orchard Central.
Meanwhile, even hobbies with a much smaller niche are getting a foothold. For instance, there used to be a shop that specialised in diabolo, yoyo and juggling equipment at Orchard Central, while there’s a darts retailer and cafe at *SCAPE.
I’ll be honest and tell you that the last three times I went to Orchard Road, I wasn’t there for the shopping. No matter how crappy the shops are, people will still come if there are good entertainment options.
The Cuppage Terrace area is quite busy on weekends, and Thai discos like Club Neverland continue to survive despite the tough economic times.
If nobody is going to be shopping on Orchard Road anymore, at least make sure they’re drinking. Other popular options are KTV (Kbox’s Cineleisure outlet has been expanding over the years) and gaming.
Babysitting and childcare facilities
It’s not easy to find centrally-located childcare facilities in Singapore, as anyone who works in the CBD will tell you.
Parents who need to run errands or just want to have a meal with friends are often seen lugging around unwieldy prams as they try to navigate escalators and underpasses.
This could mean potential business for childcare facilities on the shopping belt. This Straits Times writer mentioned hourly babysitting and childcare services being available in downtown Japan.
Assuming tai tais haven’t also fled Orchard Road, this is something that might encourage parents to make a trip down to the area.
What would you like to see on Orchard Road? Tell us in the comments!