Owners of units at the Holland Road Shopping Centre are slashing rents, shortening leases and spending money on refurbishment in a bid to breathe new life into the ageing mall.
They are hoping to attract new tenants and keep existing ones, so boosting business in the mall, which has seen crowds dwindle.
A check by The Straits Times found that new and long-time tenants have had their monthly rentals cut by 20 to 30 per cent, with some slashed by half.
Some tenants, for instance, are paying about $3,800 a month for a 200 sq ft unit, which is less than half of what an Orchard Road retailer pays. And at least one tenant has struck a deal to pay weekly rents, rather than being tied to year-long or two-year leases.
Lower rent also prompted the well-known EMF Bookstore to re-open in the mall last September, seven months after it closed, citing high operating costs and higher rentals. It had been operating at the mall for 27 years.
Its sole proprietor, Mr Eddie Zhang, said he was approached by his former landlord and is now renting a 500 sq ft unit for less than what he used to pay, although he declined to say by how much.
The mall's management is also trying to add buzz to the three- storey complex, which was built in 1972. It will spend more than $100,000 this year to change ceiling lights and install new glass doors.
In its heyday, Holland Road Shopping Centre attracted expatriates, Singaporeans and tourists on the hunt for furniture, art and antiques, as well as festive decorations. But in recent years, the mall has become a shadow of its former self, even after the opening of the Holland Village MRT station on the Circle Line in 2011.
Several tenants blamed the decline on lack of variety, with nail bars and massage parlours taking over the premises of several shops which moved out in recent years.
Shoppers in the area are also spoilt for choice, with malls like JEM, Westgate, Clementi Mall and Star Vista opening since 2011.
But Mr Alan Ng, chairman of Holland Road Shopping Centre's Management Corporation Strata Title, said there is a limit to what it can do. That is because the mall's 111 units are owned by 78 owners, who set their own rents.
Mr Ng, who is an owner as well, added: "Everyone wants to look after his own interests.
"Some landlords think that nail salons give the highest return... It's difficult to control in that sense, if we do not own something, we can't enforce rules."
Mr Neil Piaro, who owns carpet shop Mark Ashley, is moving out in March, after 12 years. "It's quiet... It's just not worth it to stay on," he said.
Under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Master Plan, Holland Village is designated as an "identity node", a neighbourhood with distinctive features worth keeping.
Retail competition is likely to hot up even more with the opening of a new medical centre, along with shops and food and beverage outlets, opposite the mall, possibly by next year.
But some people hope the mall can recapture its charm.
One of them is Mr Donald Ho, who chose the Holland Road mall over Jurong Point to set up a shop selling silk products.
Besides a cheaper monthly rent of $3,000 for a 160 sq ft unit, he said, the customers in the area "are more discerning and knowledgeable, so they are willing to spend more on quality".
This article was first published on January 19, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.