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This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 5, 2013

Singapore shoppers will soon have another reason to swoop into Johor Baru: Angry Birds.

The new Komtar JBCC mall across the Causeway will have an Angry Birds Activity Park, the first in South-east Asia, when it is completed around May next year.

Singaporean housewife May Lee, 42, is looking forward to the upcoming mall.

The mother of two who has been going to Johor Baru for the last 11 years to shop at the older Johor Baru City Square next to Komtar JBCC, says: "We will definitely visit the new mall when it's up. It will be another place for us to shop and explore. My kids will probably enjoy going to the Angry Birds theme park."

With a steady stream of Singaporeans heading to Johor Baru to shop and eat, the Malaysian city and its surrounding area look set for a retail boom.

Komtar JBCC will have over 400,000 sq ft of retail shops including anchor tenant Metrojaya department store.

A little further afield from the city centre, a proposed mixed development in the adjacent new township of Iskandar will include retail space alongside offices, serviced apartments and a hotel, reported The New Straits Times last month. The RM2-billion (S$796-million), 7.3ha commercial project will be co-developed by The Distinctive Group and IGB Corp.

And The Little Red Cube - which houses theme parks such as Sanrio Hello Kitty Town as well as 150,000 sq ft of retail space - recently opened in Puteri Harbour, a 20-minute drive from Singapore.

At least four shopping malls have sprouted across the Causeway in the last six years. And Singaporeans have been braving heavy weekend traffic to make their way there - by foot, bus or car.

Three of the malls are nearer the Tuas Second Link. Aeon Bukit Indah Shopping Centre and Sutera Mall were set up in 2008. Johor Premium Outlets opened in 2011.

Nearer the Johor-Singapore Causeway is KSL City Shopping Mall, part of the first integrated development in Johor that combines a shopping mall, a condominium and a hotel. It opened in 2010.

As competition heats up, older malls such as Johor Baru City Square, which opened in 1999, has seen the need to give itself a makeover, adding two new floors and sharpening up its overall look.

Singaporeans make up between 10 per cent of shoppers in malls such as Sutera and 60 per cent in malls such as KSL City, say the malls' spokesmen.

Those interviewed said they usually go to these malls for food, groceries, pedicure, manicure, massage and movies, largely because they cost 40 to 50 per cent less and are of similar, if not better, quality than those in Singapore. They also find the malls relatively safe, with security guards and CCTVs present. The Johor Premium Outlets also has a police station in its compound.

As for rumours of children being kidnapped at JB malls, Ms Lee does not think they are true. She says: "I find the malls safe. You don't see suspicious-looking people around. But if you are outside the mall, you have to be more vigilant."

Riding on the demand from Singaporeans, one of Malaysia's largest public bus services, Causeway Link, has been providing buses direct from Singapore to some of these shopping malls since 2010. It also provides transport from the Malaysia checkpoints, at both the first and second links, to these malls. Bus frequency can range from 15 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the location.

A spokesman for Causeway Link said that more than 20,000 people take its buses via the Causeway and more than 9,000 via the Tuas Second Link daily.

Aware that Singaporeans make up a significant percentage of their customers, some shops make effort to woo them.

For instance, Dawn's Wedding, a bridal shop at Johor Baru City Square, runs advertisements on Singapore Chinese radio stations such as 93.3 and 100.3. It also offers free delivery of wedding albums and rented bridal gowns to Singapore.

Director Ho Boon Sin, 43, said Singaporeans make up as much as 70 per cent of its customers on weekends.

Singaporean couple Adeline Lim, 32, an IT manager, and Rudy Yap, 33, a project manager, decided to get their wedding album done there. They take a bus from Kranji MRT and walk to City Square, which can take about two hours.

Says Ms Lim: "It costs less than RM5,000 to get an album done there. In Singapore, it would have cost us at least $3,500. Besides, I have read good reviews about the shop on online forums on bridal shopping. Many of the staff here have been with the shop for many years. I also find them less pushy compared to those in Singapore."

leawee@sph.com.sg


JOHOR BARU CITY SQUARE

Johor Baru City Square is connected to Johor checkpoint - a five- to 10-minute walk away - making it the nearest shopping mall to the Causeway.

Singaporeans made up about 30 per cent of its 24 million shoppers in a 2009 survey, says the mall's general manager and chief finance officer Catherina Quek. She believes the figure will rise on the back of the mall's recent renovations.

Set up in 1999 by Malaysian company Johdaya Karya, the mall started RM160 million (S$64 million) worth of renovation works in 2011. They are expected to be completed by September. That comes at a good time as the mall expects to see an increase in shoppers from Singapore and elsewhere, due to the growing investments in Iskandar, says Ms Quek. She is referring to Iskandar Malaysia, an economic development zone in southern Johor, which boasts projects such as Legoland and Hello Kitty Town.

The mall, which used to have five levels, now boasts two more floors, including one with an outdoor garden, complete with a pond and a green wall.

The number of retailers, including fashion and food and beverage shops, has grown from 284 to 337. They include several firsts in Johor, such as Diva, a fashion accessories shop from Australia, and T-Bowl, a Taiwanese eatery, where customers sit on toilet bowls and get their meals served in mini "toilet bowls".

There are now 14 cinema halls, from 10 previously, including some with 3-D screens. There is also a new indoor children's playground. Total retail space is now more than 550,000 sq ft.

The walls of the lobbies in its three basement carparks, which have a total of 1,250 lots, have been knocked down and replaced with glass panels to make the area brighter.

The number of security guards has increased from 40 to 60 and auxiliary police and plainclothes detectives have been added to the team.

Plus, there is now a security escort service for women. Those who wish to engage the free service, for instance, to escort them to their car in the carpark after a midnight movie, can approach the security CCTV room at level 1.

Singaporean couple Rashid Razak, 24, a retail assistant, and Elfirah Mohd Sham, 23, a customer service officer, who both live in Tampines, have been visiting the mall about twice a month since early this year. They go there to shop for clothes, dine and watch movies.

Says Mr Rashid: "Movies cost only RM26 for two tickets here compared to about $20 in Singapore. We also like to go to fast food restaurants here such as Subway and Kenny Rogers as they are halal, unlike those in Singapore."

Singaporean housewife May Lee, 42, who lives in Jurong East, also likes to frequent the mall on weekends with her two sons, aged 41/2 and 12. They go at least once a month and travel by public bus. Her husband sometimes goes with them.

She says: "I would stock up on milk powder for my younger son and cosmetics for myself. Things are generally cheaper there. I also find the mall safe."

Where: 106-108 Jalan Wong Ah Fook, 80000 Johor Baru

When: 10am to 10pm daily

Getting there:

  • By car: From Johor Checkpoint, go straight, turn left into Jalan Tun Abdul Razak. Takes about five minutes.
  • By bus: Causeway Link CW1 from Kranji, CW2 from Queen Street and CW5 from Newton Circus, all via the Johor-Singapore Causeway. Then take a five- to 10- minute walk across the pedestrian links joining the checkpoint to the mall.

Costs between 80 cents and $2.40. Return trip costs RM1 to RM2.50. At intervals of five to 10 minutes (peak hours) and 10 to 25 minutes (non-peak).


KSL CITY SHOPPING MALL

KSL City Shopping Mall is part of the first integrated development in Johor that combines a shopping mall, a condominium and a five-star hotel.

The RM1.5-billion (S$597-million) development is owned by Malaysian property developer KSL Group Holdings. The shopping mall, about a 10-minute drive from the Johor checkpoint, sees about 800,000 to one million shoppers a month.

Singaporeans make up 60 per cent of shoppers on weekends, says complex manager Amy Tan.

The mall has 500 retailers, with shops spread over four levels. It has eight cinema halls, two with 3-D screens, and 3,000 indoor carpark lots.

Besides food and beverage outlets, it also has a number of massage parlours and manicure and pedicure shops.

Pushcarts line the corridors, hawking items such as phone and fashion accessories. Tesco, the British supermarket chain, is on the lower ground floor.

When Life!Weekend visited the mall last Saturday around noon, there were at least three Singaporean families checking out the shops there.

Ms Kris Chew, 39, a freelance accountant, her husband, who is in his 40s, and three children, aged seven, nine and 12, were at Berlian Optical at the ground floor.

Contact lens solution and spectacles are about 40 per cent cheaper than those in Singapore, says Ms Chew. For instance, a bottle of hard lens solution, which costs $9.50 in Singapore, is RM11.50 in Johor Baru.

The family, who live in Punggol, have been to the mall with their friends a few times and find it to be a relatively cheap and safe place to shop and eat.

Ms Jas Kong, 35, an administrative supervisor, was at Nails Studio on the second floor with her husband and daughters, aged five and seven. She paid RM83 for a manicure and RM18 for pedicures for her daughters.

She says: "In Singapore, it would probably cost us about twice as much."

During their first trip there in April, they stayed overnight at the 858-room KSL Hotel & Resort next door, which has a dinosaur theme park, to celebrate their younger daughter's birthday.

She says: "It's good to have a shopping mall next to a hotel. It makes shopping so much more convenient."

Meanwhile, store assistant Darul Asbad, 48, and his wife, 43, and son, 10, who live in Bukit Batok, were shopping for groceries at Tesco.

He says: "You can save a few cents off every item. If you buy more of the item, the savings can be significant."

He drives to Johor Baru, which he says is "nearer to Bukit Batok than Geylang", at least once a month to shop for groceries.

Where: 33, Jalan Seladang, Taman Abad, 80250 Johor Baru, Johor

When: 10am to 10pm daily

Getting there:

  • By car: From Johor checkpoint, exit to Jalan Tebrau and, after five to 10 minutes, turn left into a residential area, Century Gardens.
  • By bus: Causeway Link S1 from Johor Baru Central bus interchange near the Johor checkpoint. Stops right outside the mall. The journey, which takes about 30 minutes, costs RM1.50. The return trip is RM1.60. Buses run at 25- to 45-minute intervals.

SUTERA MALL

When Sutera Mall's new six-storey annexe is completed by the end of this year, it will have a community library, built in consultation with Singapore's National Library Board.

This will be the first full-fledged public library in a shopping mall in Johor Baru, says Mr Steven Shum, deputy general manager (Townships) at Keppel Land. Keppel Land is part of Tanah Sutera Development, the consortium of Malaysian and Singaporean companies which owns the mall.

About 10 per cent of the 600,000 visitors who descend on the mall every month are Singaporeans, says Mr Shum.

The RM80-million (S$32-million) mall houses more than 400 retailers spread over three floors and more than 400,000 sq ft. Food and beverage and fashion apparel take up a majority of the units.

Its two main anchor tenants are Aeon Big hypermart, a Japanese hypermarket chain and Pekin Restaurant, owned by a Johorian, Mr Yo Kok Kong, 58.

To cater to more shoppers, the new annexe will have more retail outlets as well as an additional 1,000 carpark lots, on top of the existing 2,800 outdoor ones.

A popular eating place among Singaporeans at the mall is the Chinese Pekin Restaurant, which has three other branches in Johor Baru. About 30 per cent of customers on weekends are Singaporeans, says Mr Yo.

Singaporean Shemainne Quek, 58, who runs a private school in Singapore, says: "I love their Peking duck and braised sea cucumber with fish maw."

She was at Pekin Restaurant with her husband, 58, a retiree, three daughters and two of their friends. Their bill that evening for six dishes, came up to RM265. A similar meal in Singapore would have cost at least 40 per cent more and the dishes may not taste better, she says.

She discovered Sutera Mall about five years ago and has been visiting it once or twice a month ever since, with her husband or family. She usually visits on weekdays, when it is less crowded.

The drive from her condominium in east coast to the mall takes 45 minutes to 11/2 hours.

She says: "Except for the clothing, which tends to cater more to the young, the mall has everything I am looking for. The massage and groceries are cheaper than in Singapore. The outdoor parking is free. I find the security here better than in some other shopping malls in Johor Baru. The area around the mall is also very lively, with eateries and massage places."

Where: L1-046, Sutera Mall. No 1, Jalan Sutera Tanjung 8/4. Taman Sutera Utama. 81300 Skudai, Johor Baru, Malaysia

When: 10.30am to 10.30 pm daily

Getting there:

  • By car: From Tuas Second Link, exit onto Perling Express and then turn onto Jalan Sutera Danga where the mall is. Journey takes about 20 minutes.
  • By bus: CW4S from Jurong East Interchange. Stop outside the mall. The journey, which goes through Tuas Second Link, takes about two hours. It costs $4. The return trip is RM6.

Other buses to the mall are also available from Boon Lay and Tuas Second Link. Go to www.causewaylink.com.my/singapore-bus for more information.


JOHOR PREMIUM OUTLETS

As the first and only luxury premium brand outlet in South-east Asia, Johor Premium Outlets opened with much fanfare in December 2011. The mall houses 80 stores sprawled over 173,000 sq ft, offering discounts of 25 to 65 per cent.

Besides selected Malaysian brands such as Padini and Vincci, most of the brands are international ones including DKNY, Burberry, Coach and Calvin Klein.

There is an outdoor playground for children and a nursing room for mothers.

There are more than 3,000 outdoor carpark lots.

In its first year of operation, it clocked in four million shoppers, which is well within target, says Mr Jean Marie Pin Harry, general manager of Genting Simon, which owns Johor Premium Outlets. It is not known what proportion were Singaporeans.

The mall will be adding about 40 new brands and another 100,000 sq ft by this year, as part of a second phase of development worth RM50 million (S$19.9 million).

Genting Simon is also looking to add more fine-dining options, though there are no concrete proposals yet.

Singaporean Joseph Lim, 38, welcomes the news. The regional project manager has driven to the mall about four times with his family and friends. He says that the eight food outlets get long queues during mealtimes.

His other gripe was that the walkways were not covered and it could get quite hot in the afternoon.

The items were also not as cheap as what he expected. "Friends who have been to premium outlets in the United States say the discount can be as much as 70 to 80 per cent, but here, the discount is not as good," says Mr Lim, adding that it was a general observation.

Singaporean accountant Alex Yiu, 33, who visited the mall last Saturday with his wife, also did not find the international brands cheaper. "The Malaysian brands such as Vincci are a better bargain."

Prices for Vincci, a shoe shop, range from RM10 to RM100 after discounts.

Where: Indahpura, 81000 Kulaijaya, Johor Darul Takzim

When: 10am to 10pm daily

Getting there:

By car: From Tuas Second Link, travel along Lebuhraya Hubungan Kedua Malaysia Singapore. Exit 304, then at 302A. About 25 minutes.

By bus: Causeway Link JPO1 from JB Central bus interchange.which stops outside the JPO. The journey, which costs RM4.50, takes 50 minutes. Buses run at about two- to 21/2-hour intervals.

Causeway Link JPO2 from Tuas Second Link. which stops outside JPO. The journey, which costs RM5.20, takes about an hour. Operates at three-hour intervals.


AEON BUKIT INDAH

Aeon Bukit Indah, which opened in December 2008, is the latest in a series of shopping malls by Aeon in Johor Baru. The mall has 188 shops over three levels and an area of 950,000 sq ft. The flagship store is the Aeon department store.

There are about 10 cinema halls, some with 3-D screens, and more than 2,000 outdoor carpark lots.

About 2.4 million shoppers visit the mall every year. Thirty to 40 per cent of them are Singaporeans, says an Aeon spokesman.

One of them is retiree June Ho, 61, who has driven to the mall a few times, usually with friends. She likes the local fashion shops such as Belle Fashion.

She says: "I like the cut of their clothes, which makes me look slimmer. The clothes are also quite cheap. I can buy three blouses for RM200 (S$80)."

Singaporean Samuel Tan, 40, an account manager, drives in on weekends with his friends. He says: "We like to go to the supermarket to shop for things such as canned food, instant noodles and detergent because they cost 30 to 40 per cent less than in Singapore."

But while it is quite safe in the mall, they usually leave before 10pm as parts of the carpark are not well-lit.

Says Mr Tan: "It's always better to be safe than sorry."

Where: 8 Jalan Indah 15/2, Bukit Indah, Johor Baru

When: 10am to 10pm, up to 10.30pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays

Getting there:

By car: From Tuas Second Link, travel along Lebuhraya Hubungan Kedua Malaysia Singapore. Exit into Lebuhraya Bukit Indah and turn left into Persiaran Indah. About 15 minutes.

By bus: CW3 from Jurong East Interchange, which stops outside the mall. The journey, which passes through Tuas Second Link, takes about 11/2 hours. It costs $4. The return trip is RM5. At intervals of five to 10 minutes (peak hours) and 20 to 30 minutes (non-peak).

CW6 from a bus shelter along Boon Lay Way (use Exit B from Boon Lay MRT Station), which stops outside the mall. The journey, which passes through Tuas Second Link, takes about one hour and 20 minutes. It costs $4. The return trip costs RM5. At intervals of 15 to 25 minutes.


KOMTAR JOHOR BARU CITY CENTRE (JBCC)

Formerly known as Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak, Komtar Johor Baru City Centre (JBCC) is part of a RM500-million (S$199-million) development.

The project includes two high- rise towers - Menara Komtar, which is being renovated, and the new building, Menara Johor Land - and a new four-star hotel.

The 26,000 sq ft indoor Angry Birds park at the heart of the complex will include an activity area, a retail shop, a restaurant and a party room, according to the Star online.

Other tenants include Malaysian contemporary optician Seen and Tony Roma's, a ribs, seafood and steak restaurant.

There will be direct pedestrian links to the Johor checkpoint and Johor Baru City Square at the eastern end, and a direct pedestrian bridge to Persada Johor International Convention Centre at the western end.

The project by Damansara Assets, a subsidiary of Johor Corp, aims to return Komtar as the iconic landmark of Johor Baru, a shopping, entertainment and dining haven. A spokesman said more details will be revealed later this year.

Ms Jas Kong, 35, an administrative supervisor, frequents KSL City Shopping Mall, about 10 minutes' drive away from Komtar JBCC, with her husband, 35, a senior sales manager, and their two daughters, aged five and seven.

They will probably visit the new mall when it is ready. She says: "We like to shop in Johor Baru as things are generally cheaper here."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 5, 2013

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