Singapore’s Far East Shopping Centre tries again for en-bloc sale, some shop owners may move to Orchard Towers or retire

Singapore’s Far East Shopping Centre tries again for en-bloc sale, some shop owners may move to Orchard Towers or retire

SINGAPORE, April 26 — With en-bloc plans for Far East Shopping Centre up in the air for a second time, shops located in the building along Orchard Road remain in limbo over their futures.

Several shop owners and tenants told TODAY that they are toying with the idea of retirement should the shopping centre find a willing buyer. Some are narrowing down their options to lease space in other malls, while others are unsure of their next move.

Far East Shopping Centre — built in 1974 with 298 shop units by real estate developer Far East Organisation — was put on sale again last Friday at a guide price of S$928 million (RM3.26 billion).

Once considered one of the most prominent commercial complexes along Orchard Road, the strata-titled, mix-development building was to be sold to Glory Property Developments, an investment firm linked to China’s mining company Bright Ruby Resources run by Chinese tycoon Du Shuanghua.

It was set to be the largest collective sale of 2023 at about S$910 million, after 80 per cent of strata-titled unit owners signalled their support last June for it to go ahead.

However, The Business Times and property website EdgeProp reported earlier this month that the buyer had rescinded the offer, after failing to get approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority in January this year to extend the site’s gross floor area in its proposed redevelopment under the Strategic Development Incentive scheme.

Glory Property Developments, the buyer, wanted to increase the gross floor area by 20 per cent.

However, applications and proposals to redevelop existing sites in the Orchard Road area under the scheme should include a joint integrated redevelopment with adjacent properties. This condition was not met by the buyer.

For tailor Ruth Liam, a senior citizen who declined to give her age, her shop Daintie Dames that offers alteration services has grown a steady flow of customers over the past 20 years at the shopping centre. The shop owns its strata title.

She believes that with this second attempt at a collective sale, it is inevitable that she may have to move, even though she is sentimental about the place and moving is “a hassle” to her.

“There’s so much to move and we need to find a place,” she told TODAY in Mandarin as she nodded towards the rows of cloth sitting on a shelf.

“Luckily… the (first) sale didn’t go through and we can be here longer… This is a good location on Orchard Road, so there’s probably someone (who will want it).”

Over at gem shop Gems of Lanka, it may well be yet another move for Jayampath Desilva and his wife Priyanthi.

The shop used to be at Tanglin Shopping Centre for more than 20 years until the shopping centre was sold for S$868 million in February 2022.

Last year, the couple signed a short-term two-year lease for their third-floor unit in Far East Shopping Centre and the store opened in mid-2023.

Desilva said: “In fairness, (the management of Far East Shopping Centre) said that it could only give us a short-term lease since there might be an en-bloc sale.

“But when the (first) sale was announced, human traffic here dropped… We aren’t affected since we have our regulars.” He was unable to estimate how much of a drop in footfall there was, but noted that it has been much quieter.

Recalling the hassle of moving their items and setting up shop from Tanglin Shopping Centre to Far East Shopping Centre, Mrs Desilva said: “We’re hoping to just stay here as long as we can. Maybe close shop after this, who knows? We’ll see how it goes.”

‘Golf hub’ no more?

For golf enthusiasts, Far East Shopping Centre’s second floor is the go-to place to get equipment with its many golf shops.

One of them is Golf Fitter by Henry and its owner Henry Fong, 69, is a familiar face there. When TODAY visited, he was sitting on the stairs outside his shop, chatting with other shop owners walking by and his regular customers.

His shop has been there for about 30 years and there are good memories for him tied to the shopping centre, such as the buzz when a golf event is being held in Singapore.

Fong does not object to the en-bloc sale but is concerned about how his business would be affected if it happens.

Shop owners like Fong, who are strata-title owners, might get a lump sum of money from the sale, but if they want to continue running their business on Orchard Road, that would mean looking for shop space elsewhere that would be certainly be costly in the prime district, or if they choose to get tenanted space, rental fees will also be high.

The shop owners that spoke to TODAY declined to reveal how much they would be paid.

Fong said: “This place is a ‘golf hub’ for anyone looking for golf equipment. Where will all the golf tourists go when Far East Shopping Centre (has always been) the place they know?”

He is unsure whether there will be another buyer for the shopping centre and said that most of the golf shops around his are planning to move to Orchard Towers at the corner of Orchard Road and Claymore Road should the collective sale goes through.

“It’s still within the Orchard Road area so it’s convenient for golfers… but there won’t be a nearby public car park and is further from the MRT station,” he said, adding that he has no plans to sign a lease elsewhere first until the en-bloc deal is finalised.

As for Michele Seth, retail manager of Golf & Leisure, she and the shop’s founder are toying with the idea of retirement. Having run the golf equipment shop since 1990, they are hoping to take a break should the sale happen.

Most shops in Far East Shopping Centre have been there for at least 20 years, with their owners around the retirement age.

For Seth and the shop’s founder, retirement might mean more time to play golf themselves with a “nice pay cheque” from the en-bloc sale, they joked before cutting the interview short — a regular customer had stopped by to get a new golf club for an upcoming holiday.

For several shops that have already moved to Orchard Towers, should Far East Shopping Centre’s en-bloc sale happen, it might mean that more retailers — and in turn, more customers — would shift there and help to revive Orchard Towers.

There, Tony Tan’s store stands out with its bright, white lights. The 52-year-old owner of Greenfield Golf said that business has been “okay” after his move because his regular customers still patronise the shop.

However, he does not get as many tourist shoppers who come to Singapore to golf.

He moved from Far East Shopping Centre when his lease ended in February this year and it “did not make sense” to sign a lease for a shopping centre that is set to be sold.

“Once everyone moves over (to Orchard Towers), we can rebuild the ‘golf hub’ here,” he said, adding that the rental fee was about 40 per cent cheaper at Orchard Towers, but pointed out that he rented a unit about a quarter smaller than his former shop space.

The sale tender for Far East Shopping Centre will end on May 2 at 3pm. TODAY has reached out to its management office, as well as real estate firm CBRE that is overseeing the sale of the mall, for comments.