The renovation of Golden Sorya Mall, the semi-open air plaza on Phnom Penh’s Street 51 known for its seedy atmosphere, has split nearby businesses into two camps: those who praise the potential to draw a classier clientele, and those who lament the loss of the regular patrons.
Golden Sorya Mall (GSM) was a giant metal structure established in 2009 that housed more than 100 stalls, bars and restaurants. Located near popular clubs and bars such as Heart of Darkness and Pontoon, the northern section of the mall became known for its outsized presence of drug users, sex workers and their clients.
That will all change after the renovation is completed, GSM investor Van Sou Ieng told The Post in November, noting the “expectations are that tenants will benefit from more affluent consumers”. A placard posted outside the renovation yesterday showed a sign labelling the new space “PP Pub Street”.
Sou Ieng’s hopes of attracting more upscale customers was shared by several nearby business owners, who also said they expected to benefit from the changes. Tony Akdeniz, owner of the nearby Mr Mediterranean restaurant, said he was grateful for the GSM renovations and for the overall improvements he had seen in the 10 months since he opened his business.
“I didn’t know before, but I learned that the street here has had a bad reputation for a long time,” Akdeniz said, waving his hand at the people walking outside his restaurant. “This street is changing now, and it’s a positive change – a lot of places here are renovating, but the best of the changes we see are taking place at the Golden Sorya Mall.”
Akdeniz added that he had been told by officials in charge of the renovation that the new project was set to open in April, slightly after Khmer New Year. Sou Ieng declined to comment on the renovations yesterday.
But a decrease in prostitution and drugs could have a negative impact on some of the businesses in the area, which have come to rely on the patrons drawn to the seedier side of GSM.
“We’ve lost about 10 percent of our customers here since the renovations began,” said Noum Sochet, a receptionist at the New Castle Guesthouse and Bar. “Before, we had a lot more sex workers coming here, and a lot more drug users – and some of the patrons come here for this.”
Others, like Pha Vin, a receptionist at the nearby Purple Inn, said she doubted the GSM renovations would do much to change the area’s regulars. “I don’t think the area will change very much . . . I think it will be the same as before, with a lot of drug users and sex workers,” she said.
“I’ve seen some crazy people still on this street.”
Most business owners interviewed said that the change would be a positive one, and Youhak Zhang, owner of the Youhak Tattoo parlour, said he had noticed business was starting to slow even before construction on the new space started.
“Before renovations began it was also quiet, because there was a lot of fighting at the mall that had started to cause business to go down,” he said.
Youhak said he hoped the new Phnom Penh Pub Street would attract the same crowds of students and young professionals that local container markets have drawn in.
Sochet, from the New Castle Guesthouse and Bar, offered a different opinion. He was hoping the sex workers and their clients would return to the plaza once the renovations ended in April.
“It’s all about what the customer wants,” he said, gesturing at the near-empty bar of his guesthouse. “And they come here because they know what they want.”