Fish Lens: A millennial tries to explain why Cineleisure used to be the ‘cool’ place

The Gen Z equivalent is apparently hanging out at home.

Natalie Teo |
April 7, 2023, 9:30 am

We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.

Fish Lens is where we magnify issues and put them up for discussion. Basically op-eds, but with a fancy name.

It’s almost half a lifetime ago for me now, but it feels just like yesterday that Cineleisure Orchard was the place to be.

I remember spending many a weekday afternoon after school hanging out at Cine, as we fondly called it, doing nothing in particular except browse a few shops, take Neoprints, and perhaps share a too sweet-Starbucks drink among friends.

In the days before Instagram and TikTok, Cine was the place to see and be seen – see other cool kids milling around the mall, and be assured that you were (allegedly) one of them too.

Fond memories

If you were one of those Cine kids back in the 2000s, you might remember that there was a now-defunct frozen yoghurt place called Frolick which used to occupy a kiosk in the basement.

Back then, my lifelong aspiration was to become a Frolick girl – one of the girls dispensing frozen yoghurt to customers.

To me, the Frolick girl was the pinnacle of sophistication—pretty, put-together girls with immaculate makeup, perfect hair and for some reason, an inability to smile.

Image via Shuyuan Neo/Burpple.

But their permanent resting bitch face only added to this sense of mystery and coolness about them.

Sadly, I never became a Frolick girl because I was too afraid of rejection to even put in an application.

Today, Frolick is long gone. The basement has all but emptied out, leaving one lone, largely unpatronised (as far I could see) Maki-San and a LiHo Tea.

A quick check on Google Maps however, reveals that even the LiHo Tea has closed down since.

This photo was taken in January 2023. Image via Mandy How.

The fashionistas of my generation would also shop at places like The Editor’s Market, known for their trendy clothing, and Rockstar by Soon Lee, for their selection of sneakers.

The logistics and coordination involved with rounding up a group of friends with similar tastes to head to The Editor’s Market to benefit from their bulk discount made some of us experts with splitting bills later in life, even before PayNow and Google Pay came into existence.

Of course, you can’t mention Cine without mentioning cinema. The mall sits on the site of the popular Orchard Cinema, which closed in 1995 and was redeveloped into Cathay Cineleisure Orchard in 1997.

Image via Karen K/Google Maps.

Pre-streaming services, it was the only way we could catch new releases legally.

Student prices made watching films more affordable, but snacks were still too expensive for the average teenager’s allowance back then, so we’d find creative ways to bring in our own chips, drinks, and even a full meal from the nearby McDonald’s.

Good times.

Ghost town

It’s been many years since I’ve stepped foot into Cine, but weeks ago, I found myself back where many of my formative teenage memories were made.

I was headed to a spin class on the third floor of the mall, which has transformed into a fitness enclave of sorts.

Aside from my spin studio, I spotted a yoga studio, a boxing studio, two gyms and a dance school.

While the fitness studios seemed pretty lively, the rest of this once-vibrant mall has turned into a ghost town.

Most floors are empty, save for one or two tenants.

Image via Mandy How.

Given the number of fitness studios there, I thought the mall might have a couple of smoothie places, or salad bars to cater to the clean eating gym crowd, but sadly there were none.

And if you wanted to do some shopping, there’s not a lot of choices either, with just one streetwear brand and another offering tailored suits.

I can tell why the mall is so quiet these days. It’s not exactly built for anyone to linger, considering how little there is to actually do or see.

After my class, I ended up walking across the road to 313@somerset, conveniently located just above an MRT station, to get my post-workout smoothie, before heading home.

How did Cine become this way?

I can’t say I didn’t feel a brief tinge of sadness looking at the mall, half of it boarded up and unoccupied.

I wondered if I was the only one who felt that way, and turns out, I’m not alone.

User u/kaijux__ asked the same question on Reddit thread r/Singapore, and was met with more than 100 comments, many of whom, like me, spent their younger days hanging out at Cine.

by u/Blackgoofguy from discussion What happened to cineleisure?
in singapore

by u/subzephyr from discussion What happened to cineleisure?
in singapore

As one Reddit user pointed out, times have changed, but Cine hasn’t.

They didn’t have much in the way of competition in the early 2000s, but newer malls that have sprung up in recent years, like 313@Somerset, Orchard Gateway and Orchard Central has definitely drawn the crowd away.

These malls are all helpfully linked to one another and located right above the MRT station, so if you don’t feel like braving the elements to get across to Cine, you can have your pick of interconnected malls to spend your day.

Many businesses took a hit during the pandemic, and some old Cine tenants simply couldn’t survive.

According to this Zaobao article, one tenant said that business fell by about 50% to 60% during the pandemic, while another former F&B tenant saw their business decline by 80%.

Which brings me back to my original complaint – the mall simply isn’t built for people to linger – because there are so few shops left.

Sure, I might go out of my way once in a while to catch a movie (or I could go to the nearby Plaza Singapura or Shaw Centre, both helpfully linked to MRT stations), but there are few options to grab a meal, or sit down for a coffee with friends after.

Or I might make going for spin classes a regular thing, but I’m still going to have to head elsewhere for my post-workout sustenance.

Are Cine’s best days truly over?

Perhaps not.

Cathay Organisation, the owner of Cine, has said that some new shops are moving in and in the midst of renovations, with some “experienced” F&B outlets due to occupy the lower floors.

Ah Chew Dessert, for instance, has already moved in from Novena.

The mall is also part of the Singapore Tourism Board’s Orchard Road rejuvenation plan, with plans for a “refreshed tenancy mix focusing on local brands” by the third quarter of this year.

And with the neighbouring *SCAPE currently undergoing a revamp, the location might just return to its glory days yet.

Top image via Billy L./Foursquare and Mandy How.

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