Time for a change
Funan DigitaLife Mall will close on July 1 for redevelopment for three years. Although it's known for IT stuff, the mall is not just about computers.
For a mall known for its digital products, it may surprise some that one of the tenants who has stayed the longest is a watch retailer.
Passions Watch Exchange has been at Funan DigitaLife Mall for 25 years.
Madam Helen Tan, the shop's senior director, says that in recent years, the shops have been hit by declining sales, stiff competition and rising rent.
In 2012, she sold her house to sustain the business.
She says rent would increase by at least a few hundred dollars each year and has gone over $10,000 a month, compared with five years ago.
The single mum of three tells The New Paper on Sunday: "If it weren't for my three children, the business would have folded long ago."
The 71-year-old runs the business with two of her children, Ms Annie Tee, 49, and Mr Jonathan Tee, 42.
Passions deals with pre-owned luxury watches from brands like Rolex and Cartier, and Madam Tan says the business has been suffering losses for five years.
She says Passions started in a corner of her now-defunct furniture shop in Sembawang Shopping Centre.
"I got Jonathan to help out at the store but he expressed no interest in furniture. Instead, he would resell vintage collectibles like watches in a corner of the store," she says.
Placing her children's interests before hers, Madam Tan closed the furniture shop and expanded her son's hobby into a registered business at Funan DigitaLife Mall in 1991.
She recalls former employees trying to pocket some of the earnings instead of recording down the sales transactions made.
She adds: "They thought I was a pushover because I am a woman. I knew what they were doing, but I turned a blind eye to them."
Passions, a pioneer in the pre-owned luxury watch industry, built a reputation for having a good collection of pre-owned watches and saw customers from all over the world. This was in the early 2000s and the mall was a popular haunt.
But when the 2008 global recession hit, Passions suffered.
Madam Tan says: "We would be lucky to have customers, since we were offering luxury goods that were not a priority during an economic downturn."
The emergence of pawnbroking chains further affected sales, and business has hit a flatline.
The Fullerton Hotel has offered them space to operate the business on its premises.
"My intention was to see through the end of the business in Funan, but you can never predict the future.
"We shall see how it goes at Fullerton, as it is a different landscape there," says Madam Tan.
Yet, she remains confident.
Madam Tan says: "My customers are like family. They will follow me to wherever the business moves to, I have no worries about that."
Watchmaker: 'I'm reluctant to move but...'
TNP PHOTO: PHYLLICIA WANG
Mr David Tan has been a watchmaker for 60 years.
He started at 19 and never changed jobs.
He tells The New Paper on Sunday: "In this day and age where machines are triumphing over labour, my skill set is a rare find."
And despite his children's pleas, he refuses to quit.
The 79-year-old plans to work until his body fails him.
He says he feels obligated to use his skills to help people repair their watches, especially the older and obsolete ones.
"This is not like the sales industry where you can replace people easily," he says.
But the closure of Funan DigitaLife Mall has forced him towards an uncertain future.
He says: "(All the shops) scrambled to find a new location.
"Some moved to Peninsula Shopping Centre. Some went to the Raffles area and Plaza Singapura. They want to remain in the town area."
Excellent Watch, the shop he works at, has yet to find a new home, but he plans to carry on working for his employer of 30 years.
Mr Tan says: "I'm reluctant to move, but wherever the business moves to, I'll go.
"I'll miss the times when Funan was a hot spot for tourists. The tour buses would drop them off here for shopping.
" They poured in like a flood."
Optical shop moving to Plaza Singapura
TNP PHOTO: PHYLLICIA WANG
Moving out may seem like a dreadful affair for most tenants, but not for Mrs Moey-Chong Bee Soon.
After 26 years at Funan DigitaLife Mall, she's confident her regular customers will continue to patronise her optical shop, B.S. Moey-Chong Optometrist & Contact Lens Practitioner, after it moves to Plaza Singapura in July.
All tenants are required to move out of the mall by June 30.
Mrs Chong's eyes light up when she talks about customers who have become good friends.
"Many of my customers bring their families here... Some already have grandchildren," says Mrs Chong, who is the shop's director and optometrist.
"Many customers are regulars, and eventually we become friends.
"It reminds me of why I love my profession."
Despite her hectic schedule, Mrs Chong will always strike up a conversation with her customers when they call.
Lately, calls have been pouring in daily, with customers asking for the address of her new outlet.
Over the last 20 years, there have been about five optical shops at Funan DigitaLife Mall, but now only hers remains, she says.
"There was a lot of competition but eventually all of them moved out. I'm glad we stayed," she adds.
She says being in the business district made it convenient for customers.
Given a choice, she prefers to stay.
She says they were given a six-month notice before all the shops had to move out.
"We are thankful for the past and looking forward to the future at Plaza Singapura," she adds.