Every nineties kid who grew up in Singapore spent a large part of their youth on Orchard Road (obviously, this was in the days before kids started spending 20 hours a week in tuition classes).
Hands up anyone who remembers California Lemon at Cineleisure, the benches outside Far East Plaza (for the ah bengs/lians) and spending hours listening to CDs at HMV at the Heeren or… Tower Records *gasp*.
These days, the Orchard Road shopping district is no longer cool. Despite the fact that it’s still crowded as hell, Orchard Road malls are struggling and resorting to desperate measures to attract customers who’ll actually spend some money.
What happened? Here are some reasons it has fallen out of favour with Singaporeans:
It’s way too crowded
Back in the days before Singapore got so jam-packed with people, Orchard Road was just crowded enough to be considered lively. The only area where the crowds got uncomfortable at times was the underpass between Wisma Atria and Takashimaya.
These days, the entire stretch is an unbearable stench of jostling bodies, especially on weekends. But if there are more people, shouldn’t the malls be making more money?
Not enough apparently, due to the fact that newer malls like ION Orchard, Somerset 313, Orchard Central and Knightsbridge have sprung up like weeds in the past few decades and are now muscling in on the market share of older malls like Ngee Ann City and Wisma Atria.
“Driving to Orchard Road and squeezing with the crowds is too stressful. If I need to buy something, I just go straight to the shop and then get out as soon as I can. Shopping at Orchard on weekends is not enjoyable because it’s so damn crowded it makes me nauseous,” says Laura, a 32-year-old self-professed shopaholic and stay-at-home mum.
Singaporeans are feeling the stress of overcrowding, and now spend their weekends trying to find places that are more relaxing and less stressful than the malls on Orchard Road. Some are even willing to travel longer distances to hang out at cafes in suburban neighbourhoods.
People prefer to shop online and in heartland malls
Why battle ridiculously heavy traffic and crowded trains and elbow your way past hordes of annoying people who can’t stop blocking the escalators when you can buy the exact same things on the internet or in heartland malls?
Once upon a time, shopping in heartland malls meant wearing This Fashion clothes or being limited to the book selection at Popular.
Nowadays, new heartland malls are much more happening. There are stores like Kate Spade Saturday, Calvin Klein Jeans and Armani Exchange at Westgate, while Nex at Serangoon has a rooftop garden with, get this, a dog park, which we have to admit is freaking cool.
Even if you live in Bukit Batok or Yishun, where the neighbourhood malls still suck, you can just buy stuff online. Online shopping is often cheaper than buying stuff in malls since you don’t need to subsidise the high cost of rent, plus you can buy from retailers without Singapore outlets like Target.
You know what’s better than Pedestrian Night on Orchard Road? Not having to deal with not just cars but also other people.
Yvette, a 38-year-old lawyer, concurs. “I buy a large fraction of my things online now, from vitamin supplements to books for my kids. It’s so much more convenient as I don’t need to waste my time travelling to shopping malls. I can even get the merchants to deliver my purchases to my office.”
Don’t even get us started about the increase in parking fares. You’d be hardpressed to find a mall in the main Orchard Road area with a per-entry fee after 6pm. Instead, they’ve been replaced with time-based per entry rates. Thankfully there are still some safe havens for relatively affordable parking, which we’ve compiled here.
There are more and better hangout spots in Singapore now
Back in the 90s, there weren’t as many centrally-located places where people could hang out. Many of the most popular hangout spots didn’t exist in their current forms.
Hipster cafes did not exist, Tiong Bahru was just a residential estate full of old people, Arab Street was known for the mosque and old school fabric shops instead of sheesha, and the Marina Bay/Marina South area was known for its bowling alleys and kite flying.
Orchard Road was pretty much the only place where you could buy nice clothes or find many mid-range restaurants in one place. While other shopping and dining precincts like Holland Village and Siglap still existed, they were quieter and without the internet it was harder for people who didn’t live close by to know their way around.
These days, let’s face it, there are about a million places more appealing to spend your weekend at than Orchard Road. If you’re into cafe hopping, you head to Tiong Bahru. If you want to buy hipster clothes, you head to Haji Lane. If you want to buy luxury goods, you head to Marina Bay Sands. If you want to eat at a nice restaurant, you can head almost anywhere else.
Doreen, a 32-year-old marketing manager living in the Upper Bukit Timah area, no longer spends as much of her free time in the city centre.
“My area used to be quite dead, but now with the opening of the new HillV2 mall and the influx of cafes and restaurants at Lorong Kilat, Chun Tin and the Old Fire Station, I prefer to hang out here on weekends than travel to town. I used to spend quite a lot of time at Orchard in my JC and uni days, but go there only once every few months now,” she says.
While Orchard Road is bigger and brighter than it ever was before, so is the rest of Singapore. And frankly, the brashness and boldness of the Orchard Road malls is starting to wear a little thin in comparison.
Do you spend much time shopping on Orchard Road? Tell us why or why not in the comments!
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