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So long and thanks for the glorious geeky memories, Funan

Back when I was a young lawyer working for a small law firm in Colombo Court, I used to rush through lunch so I could have more time for window-shopping.

That was in the mid-90s. Colombo Court has since been demolished. But my lunchtime haunt from across the road is still standing - well, until next year that is.

Funan DigitaLife Mall, or Funan Centre as we geeks still call it, will be closed to be redeveloped into an "experiential creative hub" over three years.

I remember the famous Corona Chicken there, when it was as popular as Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have wonderful memories of the lunch dates with my then-girlfriend, and now wife of 18 years, at the air-conditioned foodcourt in the basement . I loved the Thai food at Aroy Thai on the fourth floor (it's still there), and nachos at Taco Bell before the chain pulled out of Singapore around seven years ago.

Of course, it wasn't just the grub.


The boom days of Funan are long gone. From a business perspective, the mall definitely needs a major makeover. ST FILE PHOTO

Funan is where I bought cool tech toys over the years - my treasured Palm Vx, the first iPod Touch for my wife, my first Fujitsu laptop and countless other gadgets. PK Computer on the third floor was my favourite shop to buy the latest video games. But like many things in the tech world, that shop too has closed.

I remember buying furniture from V.Hive for my first home. I used to trawl the floors for casings for the many PDAs that I have owned. I still regularly buy knick-knacks for my daughters at the stationery store on the second floor. Just three days ago, I bought a mini keyboard attachment for my PlayStation 4 game controller.

I am sad that the Funan I know will soon disappear. But I am not surprised that the landlord made this decision.

The boom days of Funan are long gone. Its rise, for so long, was tied to the boom of the personal computer. It rocked in the 80s and through the 90s.

But the mall is now in the doldrums. I spent three hours on Sunday walking through all six floors of the mall and saw a Funan I no longer recognised.

Gone are the mom-and-pop shops that littered the mall, which shared a symbiotic relationship with the giant Challenger store on the sixth floor. I used to check out the prices of the items at Challenger first, then moved down to smaller shops which were willing to earn less money. If they weren't cheaper than Challenger, it wasn't worth the time.

 
 

Those small shops and even the fairly large South Asia Computer on level 3 are now gone. Today, two tech retail giants - Challenger and Newstead - dominate the mall. Smaller Challengers with names such as Challenger Mini and Challenger Musica have sprouted up over the years. Newstead's dominance is less obvious to the uninitiated, but those who know will tell you that Digital Lifestyle, Nubox, and many of the branded stores are really run by Newstead.

The commoditisation of technology brought down profit margins, while the convergence of multiple devices into things like the smartphone and two-in-one hybrid computers meant that there were fewer devices to buy to get the same number of features.

This is the age of the smartphone and Funan has never quite established itself as a mecca for phones, especially since the majority of smartphones here are sold through the three telcos.

There is also the challenge of high rental costs and competition from e-commerce sites.

From a business perspective, Funan definitely needs a major makeover.

But for the many geeks like me, losing Funan is like losing a huge part of our heritage. There will probably be a new Funan standing at the same place in a few years' time, but it will never be the Funan that we grew up with.

• Former tech editor for The Straits Times Oo Gin Lee now runs his own tech public relations practice

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'So long and thanks for the glorious geeky memories, Funan'. Print Edition | Subscribe