IF IT is down to just dollars and cents, the pedestrianisation of Orchard Road once a month hardly makes sense.
Each time the 660m stretch of the road was shut, it cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars", according to Mr Steven Goh, executive director of Orchard Road Business Association (Orba), which organised the event.
He described the closure of the street as "a hundred times more difficult than closing Haji Lane". More than 30 security guards and auxiliary policemen were hired for crowd and traffic management, SMRT and SBS Transit were compensated to divert bus routes, road blocks had to be erected and ramps built.
Each Pedestrian Night - on the first Saturday of the month - lasted from 6pm to 11pm and drew an average of more than 50,000 people, which Orba said was an encouraging response.
But the high footfall might not have translated to more spending.
Orba is studying whether the nights improved its members' bottom lines, as well as seeking other feedback to determine whether the event should continue running.
The last Pedestrian Night in the six-month trial is this Saturday.
Responses have been mixed so far.
The businesses that benefited the most, said Mr Goh, were street-side operations, cafes, convenience stores and fast-food outlets.
Retailers near public transport nodes also reported swift business, but many, especially the high-end retailers, saw no effect.
EpiCentre's outlet at 313@somerset welcomed 10 per cent more customers on Pedestrian Night, which translated to a 2 per cent rise in sales. Its Ion Orchard outlet, near the MRT station, also did marginally better. The Apple products retailer's other four outlets did regular trade.
The two 7-Eleven stores at Lucky Plaza and Ngee Ann City saw a 5 per cent increase in sales, but it was business as usual for Ya Kun Kaya Toast, which has six outlets in Orchard Road malls.
Some stores even saw a drop in takings.
Sales at Masterfix, which specialises in key-cutting, dry-cleaning and shoe-mending, fell about 10 per cent on each Pedestrian Night. "There are fewer cars coming in, so fewer customers," said its owner Webster Tan, 42.
Mr R. Dhinakaran, managing director of Jay Gee Melwani Group - which manages brands including Levi's, Holland & Barrett, and Nike here - said customer numbers at his 15 Orchard stores fell by an average of 20 per cent during Pedestrian Night, compared to a regular Saturday. "It doesn't help," said Mr Dhinakaran, who opened his outlets until 11pm the first time the road closed last October.
"Cars avoid the Orchard Road area, so we lose out on that customer base. Then Pedestrian Night draws people out from the malls onto the street." He stopped opening late after that because "there was no business at all".
Mr Dhinakaran, who is also vice-president of the Singapore Retailers Association, said many members experienced sales dips during Pedestrian Night.
Ms Helen Khoo, executive director of WingTai Asia, which manages Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, said the group's seven Orchard Road outlets - except those in Ion Orchard - started seeing crowds thin out from about 5pm.
"The outlets at Ion Orchard did okay because people came in by public transport," she said. "That was perhaps the only mall that did fine."
This article was first published on March 2, 2015.
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