If Jon Snow could come back to life, why not Orchard Road?
The stretch of shops around the Orchard, Somerset and Dhoby Ghaut Stations that used to be the bustling entertainment-cum-shopping hub of Singapore, has been declining in lustre for a while. Despite a brief rally in 2013, average prime retail rental has since slithered down a slope. Shopping malls have become retail ghost towns, as falling foot traffic led to falling sales, and even a shot in the arm like Pedestrian Night did not produce much of a heartbeat. Tenants continued to vacate and it looked like e-commerce and neighbourhood malls had dug the grave of Orchard Road.
Now, against all odds, it looks like this
money-sucking road commercial giant is reviving.
One vote of confidence comes from the upscaling of local brands attracted by the lower rentals now on offer. As their local products inject a fresh style to malls, they also attract tourists – and a growing number of self-confessed hipsters (aka millennials) – seeking something uniquely Singaporean to bring home.
Homegrown brands that once marketed wares from mall pop-up stores can now be seen behind shopfront glass, such as fashion label Beyond the Vines, local design retailer Naiise, and “multi-concept store” K+.
In addition, exciting global brands are making their offices in Orchard.
Apple’s first official brick-and-mortar store here will be opening in November at Knightsbridge Mall (better known as Abercrombie & Fitch Mall). Apple fans looking forward to Singapore’s very own glass-fronted tech nirvana will also be excited to know it is slated to run entirely on solar energy. Now that’s a taste of the future.
And, just as e-commerce found retail’s Achilles’ heel by offering cheaper bargains online, brick-and-mortar shops benefit from the preference shoppers have to touch and test before purchasing, giving space for a shop like Kickstarter’s We the People, new to the scene since 3rd September.
Here, followers of the popular crowdfunding site can go beyond pictures, videos and descriptions of the exciting products being developed around the world, and actually see the products themselves and buy them right then and there. Gone are the fears of misplaced trust, long transatlantic exchanges of defective goods, and the risk of packages vanishing en route. Visit the shop for such cool innovations like the airborne light bulb FLYTE, the handy Everyday Messenger bag, and many others.
Plus now that Kickstarter’s crowdfunding site has been made available to Singaporean innovators, expect to see local projects getting fan-mobbed by Kickstarter love and displayed next to international designs.
Besides the infusion of new blood (retail-wise), there are also familiar brands staking a claim in the old shopping district with new flagship stores.
Uniqlo’s Southeast Asian flagship that opened on the 2nd of September is a three level behemoth that showcases a broad selection of the brand’s modestly-priced, stylish, and quality garments, thus increasing the casual shopping appeal at Orchard (a fact underlined by a loooooong queue at its opening on a working Friday).
Other influential brands like Michael Kors and Victoria’s Secret have done likewise, demonstrating confidence in the clout of our famous tree-lined avenue.
Apart from the fun and affordable shops, new names are appealing to niche interests in a style rarely seen at Orchard.
For one, look out for Yotel’s new 610-room property. This chain of micro-hotels will be opening their Singapore location next year, and their brand emphasis on petite guest rooms, a large communal lounge, and smart technology (check out their New York branch’s robot baggage system) should bring a new dimension to the hotel scene at Orchard.
If you’re a fan of the unconventional, prepare for a pleasant surprise with Christian Dada’s new 1,700 sqf shop at 268 Orchard Road. This Japanese label blends Dadaism with fashion for an unorthodox style, and customers can try out their new duds in a store laid out like a Japanese rock garden.
Clubs too are finding their footing, with club Nova bringing the electronic dance vibe to Orchard Hotel, and Cherry at York Hotel slipping into the hip hop groove sometime this month. Between the vintage arcade consoles at Cherry and the aerial performances at Nova, the night scene at Orchard looks set to heat up.
While we at Campus have reason to be disappointed that no one picked up on our AWESOME IDEAS (no giant water slide or Ninja Warrior obstacle course yet in sight), everything on the docket does sound exciting.
Will these brave investments pave the way to a revitalised Orchard Road? Only time, and the pitter patter of shopper’s feet will tell.
By Vincent Tan