Somerset woes to ease by year end

Sheltered walkway between Orchard Central and 313@Somerset.

SINGAPORE - The current slump in visitorship to the Somerset shopping belt is expected to ease only late this year.

Construction woes that have been plaguing the area are largely to blame for the slump, said Mrs May Sng, chairman of the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba).

Speaking to MyPaper on the sidelines of an Urban Redevelopment Authority seminar yesterday, she pointed out that the temporary walkways outside 313@somerset and Orchard Central malls have been up for months, to allow pedestrians to pass through a construction site where the Orchard Gateway mall is being built.

Works on an overhead bridge and underpass for the new mall - to open later this year - have also added to the construction turmoil.

"When you have lots of construction going on, naturally people will avoid an area like that," said Mrs Sng, who also oversees the Somerset stretch. "People would rather go to a neater place where they don't have to be uncomfortable as they walk."

Some businesses have found the going tough.

Several tenants at TripleOne Somerset, across from the MRT station, have shuttered. These include big names like American franchise restaurant Applebee's and sweet shop Candy Empire.

Older malls like The Centrepoint are also losing out to their shimmery new cousins in Orchard Road.

Figures from property consultancy SLP International show that the median rental for a shop unit in the Somerset area from January to September last year was $8.59 per sq ft. This is almost half the median rental of $16.26 per sq ft for a shop unit in Orchard Boulevard.

Mrs Sng also noted that retailers and restaurant owners continue to grapple with manpower shortages - an issue that members have raised countless times.

"It is an issue of national policy...there's not much we can do directly, except voice our concerns," said the executive director of Orchard 290, which owns Paragon.

During the three-hour Place Management Seminar, Mrs Sng was awarded the inaugural Place Champion award for her efforts to enliven Orchard Road.

Orba now has 120 members, up from 40 in 2006, when Mrs Sng became chairman. The Orchard precinct also saw visits from international visitors rise 33 per cent from 2010 to 2012.

So will Singapore's iconic shopping street prevail? Yes, said Mrs Sng, who dismissed competition from online retailers and rising precincts such as Marina Bay.

The retail experience in Orchard Road is unique, she said.

"It's not just buying items, it's the total offering on the street... We compare with the best anywhere in the region and, I daresay, even in the world," she said.

Get MyPaper for more stories.