Napoleon once famously described Britain as a "nation of shopkeepers". Had the little general lived in contemporary times he might have described Singapore as a "nation of shoppers".
Retail therapy may well be an antidote to the pressures of modern life, where mobile phones and e-mails mean you're never really alone. And although suburban shopping malls have proliferated across the island in recent years, the old stalwart, Orchard Road, is still the epicentre of existence for many shoppers in Singapore, even if it's just chill-out window-shopping.
Orchard Road effectively begins in many people's minds from the upper end, near the Botanic Gardens, and ends at Raffles City, several kilometres away - in what Napoleon might have referred to as a "boulevard of boutiques".
Orchard Road is the usual location for the lighting and street parade celebrations which accompany Singapore's multicultural calendar of celebrations - which include one Christmas and two New Years; the most recent one having been to welcome the Chinese Year of the Monkey. The celebrations certainly add to the appeal of Orchard Road, but at any time it's a major drawing card with thousands of retail outlets housed in some of the most modern shopping centres on the planet.
The origins of the road's name reflect a rather more rustic influence than the contemporary concrete jungle - although it's still an attractive jungle, thanks to the urban planning which ensures an abundance of trees and foliage to support Singapore's Garden City tag.
During the 1840s, the area was full of nutmeg and pepper plantations. Sparsely populated, Orchard Road's only residents were plantation owners, such as Scotts, Cairnhill and Cuppage, whose eponymous street names are current landmarks.
The nutmeg is still available on Orchard Road, only now it's normally found grated on top of coffees at the numerous designer coffee bars.
The bout of depression which hit the retail industry in recent years through regional economic fall-out and SARS, among others, clearly took its toll on the trade. The upshot has been is a discernible change in the attitude of retailers to accommodate customers' requests for more competitive prices.
Prices are fixed for much of the merchandise in the main department stores, but the age-old tradition of bargaining is alive and well at independent stores within shopping complexes. In the current retail environment, cash is indeed king.
Source: Flight Daily News