It takes years of effort and determination to build a reputable brand. But sometimes, luck plays an important part too. There are many decades-old local famous and popular names that, for certain reasons, find it difficult to carry on their trades in this modern era.
The Union Farm Eating House, located off Clementi Road beside Maju Camp, goes all the way back to 1953 when Clementi was still very much a rural place. It was started by Chia Sek Hong who had his own poultry farm. He later created the eating house’s signature dish of chee pow kai (paper wrapped chicken), made popular for more than five decades!
Come mid-February, the 59-year-old kampong-styled eating house will walk into history. The reason is due to the expansion of the nearby campus of Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), where the land has been unknowingly used by Union Farm as a kitchen for decades.
Fans of this makan place love the rustic and undisturbed surrounding, with a nostalgic kampong touch that reminds them of the past. Others would criticise the steep prices and the oiliness of the chee pow kai. Whatever the reasons, the eating house is definitely considered successful after operating for so many decades. I’m sure many will miss this unique place when it eventually closes down.
And who can forget the famous hardworking old uncle at Maxwell Market’s Hum Jin Pang stall? For 6 or 7 pieces of deep fried doughs, a packet of these sweet or salty snacks, some stuffed with bean paste, cost only $1 each. Despite the inflation, their prices remained stagnant for many years. And the fun part is that customers can choose to fry their hum jin pang (or hum chim peng) themselves, using long chopsticks to stir the doughs in the large wok filled with boiling oil.
Maxwell Market started in the 1950s as a wet market but became a hawker center in the eighties to house the hawkers from China Street. The old uncle was likely to have started his business there (according to his signboard).
Today, the hum chim peng uncle is no longer around, but luckily his legacy is passed on to his daughter. The images of the hardworking uncle doing his work quietly will likely be remembered by many of his regular customers.
But in a world of rising cost and rents, it makes one wonder how long will such businesses with low profit margins survive?
Some other trades are not so lucky. Unable to find suitable successors, or due to declining revenues, some old brands and shops in Singapore have already walked into the history books.
Traditional Teochew confectionery store Thye Moh Chan at Geylang Lorong 27 decided to call it a day in September 2011 after operating for 68 years. Established in 1943 initially at Liang Seah Street, the shop had been run by three generations. And even so, the last owner, grandson of the shop’s founder, found it difficult to keep it going. He and his team of workers were already in their sixties and seventies, and the issues of manpower and successor had been bothering the boss in recent years.
The famous Sunset Grill & Pub located at a rustic and quiet corner of Seletar Airbase East Camp was something different from a typical makan place in Singapore.
Although the direction to this well-hidden place was challenging, the simple restaurant of Western food still attracted many patrons, especially on a cool evening during the weekends.
The ulu Seletar Airbase and Camp have remained largely unchanged for some 70-plus years since it was completed in 1928. However, its quiet and peaceful environment finally came to an end in 2010 when it was designated to be redeveloped as Singapore’s new Aerospace Hub. More than half of its iconic black and white colonial houses had been identified to be demolished. Sunset Grill & Pub, needless to say, was also affected. It was closed down in late 2011.
In late 2011, old fashioned bookshop Clementi Bookstore has decided to close down after 30-plus years of existence at Clementi central. In fact, the whole area bounded by Clementi Avenue 3 has been drawn for redevelopment. The shops, as well as the iconic sparrow sand-based playground, have been emptied since October last year.
With wide selection of textbooks, reference materials and stationary, the bookshop was extremely popular among many generations of students studying nearby. But even for that they could not compete against the online book stores and the availability of reading materials on the internet.
Even the much larger Page One, specialised in art and design books and established in 1983, could not maintain its stronghold at home. The 29-year-old homegrown brand has decided to give up its flagship store at Vivocity in early 2012 due to soaring rents, and shift the focus to its other retail shops in China, Hong Kong and Thailand.
From cassette tapes to CDs, music lovers will not be too unfamiliar with Sembawang Music Centre. Operating for more than 20 years, it had been one of the leaders in the local retail music industry. Many students would save up their allowances to buy his or her favourite music albums from the store in the eighties and nineties.
Started from a humble shop at Sembawang Shopping Centre (hence its name) to several prime outlets at Raffles City, Thomson Plaza and Plaza Singapura, Sembawang Music Center could not avoid the popularity of digital music, resulting in their bankruptcy and eventual closure in 2009. During its heydays, it had some 26 outlets in Singapore.
The demand for space is also a headache for many businesses in land-scarce Singapore. Orchidville, Singapore’s largest orchid farm, faces the dilemma when the land it currently occupies is needed by Land Transport Authority (LTA) to build a depot for the upcoming Thomson Line.
Originally specialised in pig farming at Punggol, Orchidville’s towkay switched to orchid farming when they were relocated to Mandai in 1993. Now, after almost 20 years, they face the same problem again. If there are no suitable alternatives in finding the new site, Orchidville may have to close down or shift to the neighbouring countries.
The cluster of fish farms at Seletar West Farmway also faces the same problem of relocation. With the land needed for redevelopment in near future, the fish farms have little choices but to find their way out. Some, though, may have to shut down for good. Many of the farms have been doing their businesses at Seletar West Farmway for decades.
Wholesale and retail flower-selling Sinflora, which has established its trade along Jalan Kayu as early as 1979, will also be shifting to Tampines in March 2012.
At Hougang lark kok jio (six milestone), there is this old kopitiam called Nam Heng Restaurant, famous for its orh luak (fried oyster omelette) and Hokkien mee. The area now known as Kovan has seen tremendous changes especially in the past decade. Simon Road Camp was demolished in 2003, whereas the popular Simon Road Market (1948-1999) has been replaced by Kovan Residences. Even the iconic 50-plus-year-old kopitiam, situated at the junction between Simon Road and Upper Serangoon Road, could not escape the fate of urbanisation and was torn down recently.
Good things come and go. Guess that’s the way of life.
Published: 31 January 2012
Updated: 01 October 2012