Far East Plaza now popular for massage parlours
Once a former teen hangout, Orchard mall now has at least 10 massage parlours as tenant mix changes
Former teenage hangout Far East Plaza is now home to at least 10 massage parlours.
Seated or standing behind glass windows, scantily-clad women "display" themselves and proposition men walking by to "come for massage".
Their units, which are largely on the fourth and fifth storeys of the mall, stand alongside established halal food eateries, hair salons and nail parlours.
Shopowners and workers told The Straits Times that the women moved in about two years ago and have become more brazen over the past year or so.
Mr Joseph Liang, 42, who works on the fifth storey, said he avoids bringing his seven-year-old son to work.
He said: "He's too young to be exposed to such things.
"Almost every time I pass by these units, the women will look at me very keenly. If you look back , they will ask you to come in for a massage. They wear very little and some are very upfront about it."
Neighbouring shops said the massage parlour units used to house fashion retailers and beauty shops. The shift in services at Far East Plaza comes at a time when some malls are experiencing falling occupancy rates.
Property consultant Nicholas Mak, the executive director of ZACD Group, said e-commerce has changed the retail market, resulting in landlords and owners facing a tough choice of forgoing rent, or earning from "any tenant that comes along".
Mr Mak said: "Unlike single-owner malls, Management Corporation Strata Title properties (MCST) like Far East Plaza do not have full control of tenant mix and positioning."
Other MCST malls such as The Adelphi in City Hall underwent a clean-up in 2016 after a similar problem.
To rebuild its reputation, landlords voted at its annual general meeting that year to pass a by-law to stop illegal and unlicensed massage parlours from renting units.
The police has been intensifying enforcement checks in the wake of the new Massage Establishments Act, which came into force on March 1.
The police detected 40 per cent more unlicensed massage establishments between 2013 and 2016. There were nearly 300 such operators found in 2016, with 40 per cent engaging in vice-related offences.
First-time offenders running an operation without a licence could now face a fine of up to $10,000 - 10 times higher than before - and up to two years in jail. Repeat offenders could have their penalties doubled or more: A fine of up to $20,000 and/or jail term of up to five years.
Landlords must now also take reasonable steps to get such errant tenants to hand over the premises within a month, or face penalties.
The police said firm action will be taken against the operators for flouting regulations and they take "a serious view of anyone found breaking the law".
Shoppers and other tenants lament that Far East Plaza is now a shadow of its former self.
In 2015, ST reported how the mall had fallen out of favour with the youth with many stores displaying "For Lease" signs.
Far East Plaza's MCST did not respond to ST queries.
A masseuse from a reflexology outlet who gave her name as Ms Elaine, 48, said: "These shady businesses have hampered legitimate ones. Clients come in and ask me for specials. We turn them away."
New body formed to appraise workers in massage and spa establishments
A new association has been formed with ambitious plans to clean up the massage and spa scene in Singapore.
The Spa Professionals Association of Singapore, which registered as a society with the Ministry of Home Affairs on May 2, plans to introduce an appraisal system for Category I therapists to "weed out bad eggs".
Its president Rolland Ng said from July, spa operators registered with the association can rate workers on a scale of one to 10, and assess how well a potential hire has fared at his or her previous workplace.
Only spas that have been certified by the Police Licensing & Regulatory Department as Category I massage establishments can join the association.
Category I spas have to go through stricter checks than Category II spas, as they can operate at premises such as Housing Board shophouses, shopping centres and hotels. Category II spas cannot operate in HDB residential areas, and must be situated away from said areas, schools, and places of worship.
The new association has 114 licensed Category I spa operators in the mix. There are two other bodies representing such establishments - the Spa Association Singapore and Spa & Wellness Association Singapore.
Mr Ng said the appraisal system will tighten the screening process for new staff and lower the risk of them engaging in illicit activities.
"Sometimes, (workers) might have been fired by management because of bad behaviour, but when they go to a new spa to work, their bosses do not know," he added.
The online appraisal system will be available on the association's website, which will go live in July. Mr Ng believes the appraisal system will deter errant masseurs, as those caught flouting the rules will be sacked.