Uncertain future for China Square toy shops

People checking out the toys, collectibles and antiques on sale at the flea market in China Square Central on Sunday. Mr Michael Poh, the organiser of the mall's popular flea market for the past 11 years, says there has been no official word on wheth
People checking out the toys, collectibles and antiques on sale at the flea market in China Square Central on Sunday. Mr Michael Poh, the organiser of the mall's popular flea market for the past 11 years, says there has been no official word on whether the flea market will continue or not.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Shorter lease period on renewal and hotel coming up next door has store owners worried

Long known as a haven for toy collectors and for its Sunday flea market, China Square Central could be getting a shake-up.

Many shops in the mall were recently told that their leases have been renewed only until next year.

The toy stores and collectors are worried that they may be asked to move out soon. One reason for their concern is a new hotel building that is coming up beside the mall, and which is due to be completed by the middle of 2019.

CHANGES POSSIBLE

Some of the existing tenants may still fit in the new mix, but may be relocated within the building if the owners intend to create clusters for different retail trades.

MS SULIAN TAN-WIJAYA, executive director of retail and lifestyle at Savills, on whether the mall's retail mix might change.

Real estate investment trust Frasers Commercial Trust in April last year said an entity of Frasers Centrepoint will build a 16-storey hotel next to the mall. Construction work on the hotel, which will be operated by Frasers Hospitality under the Capri by Fraser brand, started in the first quarter of this year.

In response to queries from The Straits Times on the lease extensions, a spokesman for Frasers Commercial Trust, in an e-mail reply, said: "The tenant mix will be reviewed so as to remain relevant and attractive to serve shoppers and tenants in the surrounding area".

Retail experts said China Square Central's current retail mix might change, depending on the needs of hotel guests.

"Toys and collectible shops are niche trades... If there are collectors among the guests, they will deem these shops interesting," said Ms Wendy Low, executive director and head of retail at Knight Frank.

Ms Sulian Tan-Wijaya, executive director of retail and lifestyle at Savills, said: "Some of the existing tenants may still fit in the new mix, but may be relocated within the building if the owners intend to create clusters for different retail trades." Dr Lynda Wee, an adjunct associate professor of marketing and international business at Nanyang Technological University, said services likely to be present include those for banking, medical, dentistry, hair, beauty, massage, laundry, travel, tailoring, enrichment for children, dining and supermarkets.

Even as some brick-and-mortar shops worry about whether they might have to move out of the mall, others have opened online shops or said they have plans to do so.

Madam Loh, 67, who has operated Ace Ventuna Toys Collection for the past eight years, said she learnt how to set up an online shop earlier this year, in the wake of falling sales.

"It's quite lonely to do business when there are hardly any customers," said the former electronics factory worker, who declined to give her first name.

Another shop owner, Mr Sam Chia, 46, said change is inevitable but he added that he will be sad if the shop is forced to close.

"Some customers like to see how I match the accessories and assemble the parts of figurines, so going online won't be the same," said the long-time toy hobbyist, who runs a toy accessories shop called Toy Lab on the second floor of the mall.

A common complaint among several owners of the toy and collectible stores at China Square Central is that online stores - which can offer more competitive prices - have dampened business.

Dedicated collectors like architect Cheah Kok Ming, 50, were disappointed to learn that the toys and collectibles shops in the mall could be on their way out. He said: "I shop online too, but coming to the mall, there's the thrill of browsing when you stumble upon something and buy it on impulse."

Mr Michael Poh, 55, the organiser of the mall's popular flea market for the past 11 years, said there has been no official word on whether the flea market will continue or not.

Still, Mr Poh, who owns antique store Viewpoint Trading and Collectibles in the nearby Fook Hai Building, is determined to keep the flea market alive.

He said: "There are now fewer vintage items being sold in flea markets in Singapore. Many of them are selling clothes... But I will definitely find an alternative location if I need to."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2016, with the headline 'Uncertain future for China Square toy shops'. Print Edition | Subscribe