More retailers move in, but business still slow

PHOTO: More retailers move in, but business still slow

While many shoppers are still not aware of Thomson V, some tenants at the mixed development in Upper Thomson are cautiously optimistic that business will pick up over time.

Half of the strata-titled mall's 78 retail spaces were occupied when The Straits Times visited last week, an improvement from just 25 units six months ago.

Thomson V - which offers many "shoebox" retail units that property agents said start at just over 50 sq ft - came under the spotlight in late March after the Urban Redevelopment Authority warned that such developments may fail to meet shoppers' needs because they attract only a limited range of businesses.

The authority then introduced a minimum average size of 50 sq m (538 sq ft) for retail units in future developments.

One factor that is now making Thomson V more attractive to retailers is sweetened monthly rents. Many tenants said they were sold when they heard the going price, which has tumbled from as much as $12 per sq ft when the development was first launched to less than $5 per sq ft now. "Upon hearing from the agent that he could get me $400 a month, I immediately signed up, no considerations," said Mr Andy Lee, 30, co-owner of TS Pro Tackles, a 86 sq ft fishing accessories shop in basement three that opened in July. "I'd say there's nothing to lose."

This means he is paying about $4.65 per sq ft per month.

But Mr Lee admitted that business has been poor. He had no walk-in customers for the whole of his first month in business, and even now sees roughly one customer a week.

Older shops in the red due to poor business said they might throw in the towel when their current lease ends. "Today, I had one customer. Most days, there would be nobody at all," said Mr Irwan, the manager of computer and handphone repair shop AiConnect. The 28-year-old, who goes by one name, is paying about $1,500 a month for a 130 sq ft space.

One landlord, who declined to be named, said he rejected his current tenant's offer of $1,000 a month for a similarly sized space for a renewed lease. The tenant was previously paying about $1,500 a month.

The low traffic was a sticking point for many tenants, at least seven of whom had shut by April this year. Some still gripe that the management has done little to advertise or attract an anchor tenant - such as a fast-food outlet - that would draw the crowds.

Analysts said many of these problems are endemic to strata-titled malls, as tenants cannot come together to collectively pressure just one landlord.

The managing agent appointed to oversee general maintenance also has his hands tied.

"You can't blame the managing agent, as its job is to keep the toilets clean and the escalators working, not pull in the crowds," said Mr Chris Koh, director of property consultancy Chris International.

The mall's developer, Macly Group, said it had slashed rents in basements two and three, where it is still the landlord. Its director of projects, Mr Ken Yeo, said it is in talks with a potential anchor tenant, a real estate services firm.

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