Nightlife businesses get boost from Circular Road's traffic-free trials

A MONTH into its pilot test, the pedestrianisation of Circular Road on weekend nights appears to have received a mixed response from businesses in the Boat Quay area, with bars and night spots being the main beneficiaries of the initiative.

Of the 15 businesses BT spoke to, 10 said they had benefited from the pedestrianisation, largely because they serve alcoholic beverages which cater to the nightlife crowd.

"On Friday night, business does increase, and the pub is full," said Evelyn Tan, assistant general manager of Molly Malone's Irish Pub & Brasserie. "We've increased our outdoor seating capacity, and we have a bar outside."

Across the street, Boomerang's supervisor Jhimelyn Mauji shared similar sentiments. "Most of the Western people love the ambience outside," Ms Mauji said of the Western casual dining restaurant. "We put a bar and more tables outside."

The pedestrianisation of Circular Road, which takes place every Friday and Saturday from 6pm to 1am, is a three-month initiative by Singapore River One (SRO) to increase the area's foot flow. SRO oversees the management of the entire Singapore River precinct, including the shophouses along Circular Road.

The initiative was expanded from a St Patrick's Day event in March, when Circular Road was closed to vehicles for three days. The event and the street closure resulted in a 20 per cent increase in foot flow to 21,600 people over the weekend, from the average of 18,000 people. Sales, in turn, have increased, though not all businesses are benefiting from the initiative.

"Our concept is mostly food; we don't concentrate on beers and wines," said Ogie Beldad, store manager of popular coffee chain The Coffee Connoisseur (TCC), noting that "business has almost been the same".

Asked if there are any plans to capitalise on the increased foot flow, Mr Beldad said: "The proposal is on the way. We're looking into selling some beers or having other sorts of promotions."

The closure of Circular Road starts from Molly Malone's Irish Pub & Brasserie and ends at Archipelago Brewery, at the intersection where Circular Road meets Lorong Telok Road. However, the impact of the road closure has been felt even by establishments located beyond the stretch.

"The number of customers actually fell in the past 2-3 weeks, especially on Friday nights," lamented Jane Wong, manager of Bene Spaghetti, a Japanese restaurant on Upper Circular Road that serves alcoholic beverages.

"When you make a closure, the restaurants situated near the MRT and the car parks will benefit more as there is less walking," Ms Wong said. "It's unfair for people over here. A lot of customers call and ask if the road is closed. If I say yes, they won't come."

Akhil Prabhu, proprietor and chef of salad and sandwich takeaway eatery Meat and Green, located further up Circular Road next to Bene Spaghetti, disagreed. "It doesn't affect me as much as it affects people who can put tables on the street," Mr Prabhu said. "But business has improved because there are more people on the streets."

Said SRO marketing and communications manager Darius Goh: "The initiative is currently in its pilot phase, where it is a test- bed to see if response is good. If it is, we can develop it later."

Source: Business Times, 11 Dec 2013