APRIL 16 — Regardless of individual idiosyncrasies, for a great many of us in Singapore and Malaysia both, Orchard Road is a place of regular pilgrimage — to pick up gifts before festivals, for the buzz before Christmas, to browse the endless variety of things and pick up things we really can’t afford.
However, the reality is the retail strip between the Istana and the Botanic Gardens has become increasingly more peripheral to the lives of Singaporeans.
These days there are malls stocking almost everything I can get in Orchard in much closer proximity to my house and where malls fail there are online retailers who will bring anything I want to my door.
Where once I would be gallivanting up and down from Takashimaya to Plaza Singapura at least once a week, these days I can go months without seeing the lovely old Angsana trees that line the strip.
And that applies not only to me and my fellow Singaporeans but also to tourists — a shopping street just isn’t as relevant as it used to be when you can shop on your phone.
I’m not saying it is time for the malls to close their doors but we do live in an era where the role and place of the brick and mortar store is changing and that change will inevitably change Orchard Road.
Fortunately, the state seems to be aware of this and has announced fairly ambitious plans to transform Orchard.
Authorities are exploring the possibility of pedestrianising key parts of the strip and are looking to claim one of the current traffic lanes to make way for wider sidewalks. Of course, pedestrianisation alone isn’t going to put Orchard back into the centre of national consciousness but the minister spoke of introducing “diverse and larger scale experiential concepts.”
I think it is good these conversations are happening.
Here’s my little two cents of suggestions; I think the stores along Orchard must look to begin updating their retail concepts — it needs to really become a place where “bricks meet clicks” — with space for online store outlets, screens and 3D experiences that allow us to really interact with what we buy.
Express pick up points for online orders would also be handy and as virtual screens proliferate it would be nice to see old school Singapore hawkers occupying the current trafficked road.
Space for the very best local designers and brands along with pop-up stores and concepts are essential: I can buy things from Topshop anywhere in the world and only the best of local and regional stores will give the precinct an edge.
The road also has to evolve from a passive retail environment to a performance space; with encouragement for urban acts and buskers. The reality is the anathema of the road’s, 80s and 90s incarnations — a place of regulated mainstream malls must embrace the hip, the independent — even the graffiti artists.
But beyond various fads, Orchard needs to be a dynamic, living space, a place that reflects the achievements and aspirations of Singaporeans while appealing to people from all over the world.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.