Sunday, July 11, 2010

A day at The Heeren: IT’S OH SO QUIET

Tenants hope new lifestyle store will lure crowds back to deserted mall, a former youth hangout

It was lunch time last Wednesday at The Heeren Shops in busy Orchard Road.

You would think the eateries at its basement and on the fifth floor would be packed, but, at Thai Express, only a handful of tables were occupied.

Just two shop spaces away, at Fish & Co, not even one customer was spotted.

And it was not only the eateries that were deserted.

Manicurists at The Nail Spa & Wellness chit-chatted and worked on each other’s nails.

A hairstylist at UrbanHair by Ginrich was busy – fussing over his own hair.

There were no customers at either shop.

The shopping mall, a popular hangout with young adults about four years ago, has lost a lot of its vibe.

A former anchor tenant, music store HMV, has packed up and gone, and glitzy malls like Ion Orchard and 313@Somerset are now the new buzzwords with shoppers.

‘When The Heeren opened, people had to squeeze through crowds, and I’d see about 200 people walk past in an hour,’ said Mr Richard Tat, 51, owner of Body Decor Tattoo and Piercing.

‘These days, hardly anyone walks by,’ said the Heeren tenant of 10 years, who now depends on regulars for business.

Days can be slow. Last Wednesday, six hours after he started work at noon, the tattoo artist had done just one tattoo and one piercing and had sold a replacement ball for a navel ring.

Indeed, that day was not a good one either for many other tenants, going by what The Sunday Times observed between 9.45am and 10pm.

We saw people venturing into the six-storey mall, but many just window shopped on the first floor before walking out.

Most of those interviewed said they were looking only for a specific item and were not interested in checking out the shops.

Even fewer bought anything.

Certainly, at 2pm, there were no shoppers in the youth zone on the fourth floor, as loud techno music blared from some shops.

Around 6pm, things got a little better. We counted about 30 people on the fourth floor, which is occupied mostly by shops selling apparel.

But there were fewer than 15 patrons at the restaurants on the fifth floor.

The dearth of traffic was despite at least 19 shops in the mall offering discounts of up to 75 per cent, though Pasta de Waraku’s student discount of 25 per cent seemed to be working.

It was the only restaurant on the fifth floor that was half-full at 1.30pm and 8.30pm. Other eateries were, at the most, about one-fifth full.

It was the same story with the basement eateries.

They were mostly empty, save for the newly opened Kiseki Japanese Buffet Restaurant, which attracted a queue.

When the music stopped

Tenants have been wringing their hands ever since HMV pulled out in January this year. The music store relocated across the road to 313@Somerset, less than a five-minute walk away.

‘When HMV was here, we would be able to get more foreigners and increase our sales. Without it, we see a 30 to 40 per cent decrease in sales,’ said Ms Cherly Wong, store manager at shoe and apparel outlet Converse on the third floor.

Fewer customers could have prompted some tenants to pull out. The Sunday Times estimated that 25 per cent of shops were available for lease.

According to Swee Cheng Management, the company that manages the mall, it has an incoming tenant, hairdressing salon Shunji Matsuo. It is in talks to fill up six units.

Efforts have been made to keep up with the changes in the Orchard Road area.

The 14-year-old Heeren was renovated two years ago, with changes made to the basement and fifth floor to make for more retail and recreation space.

Last year, an outdoor refreshment area was built and several eateries, such as McDonald’s, set up shop.

Last month, the mall even hosted this year’s Manhunt Singapore in a bid to whip up excitement.

Shoppers, however, remained lukewarm.

Ms Jocelyn Chan, 22, a Singapore Management University student, said she used to shop at The Heeren during her secondary school days, when it was still a trendy hangout.

Now, she prefers malls that carry international brands like Zara and Topshop. ‘These days, I come only when the eating places at other malls are too crowded,’ she said.

Tenants are now banking their hopes on ALT, the new anchor tenant which takes up the space vacated by HMV.

ALT, a lifestyle concept store targeting shoppers from their mid-20s to mid-30s, opened last Thursday.

Mr Ignatius Koh, 27, owner of Coalition Store, which sells clothes and accessories on the fourth floor, said: ‘The crowd has been slow because we’ve been missing an anchor tenant for three levels of shop space.

‘I’m expecting things to go back to normal once ALT opens,’ he said last Wednesday.

The folks at Indonesian restaurant Desa Kartika share the same hope.

‘We’ll be happier once the anchor tenant opens. It will revitalise Heeren again,’ said a spokesman.

Source: Straits Times, 11 Jul 2010

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