Compared to the brand new shopping centres, these veteran shopping malls look as though they are forgotten by time. While it is a norm for new shopping centres to have several fast food restaurants, food courts, fashion outlets or even cineplexes, the old shopping malls are instead dominated by foreign-maid agencies, travel agencies and renovation companies.
Not all aging malls are frozen in time. Those which are managed by sole owners can turn back the time through a series of renovations and makeovers. The strata-titled ones are in more tricky situations. They are usually co-owned by different groups of people, making them difficult to be bought over by private developers. The owners also have the freedom to lease their shops to any tenants who are lured by the relatively lower rents, which is why it is not unusual to find similar businesses in the same building.
While the likes of VivoCity, Nex or JCube attract huge crowds, many veteran malls look deserted even during the weekends.
When was the last time you have visited one of these old shopping malls?
The Veteran Heartlanders
Katong Shopping Centre, Mountbatten Road (since 1973)
Katong Shopping Centre was opened in 1973, much to the delight of the residents living in Katong and Marine Parade. The first air-conditioned shopping mall in Singapore, it was then well-known for a concentrated number of textile shops in its early days, as well as its anchor tenant the Oriental Emporium. The building, styled with the iconic holes-in-walls design, was filled with people every weekends.
As time passed, the domination of the textile businesses was gradually taken over by renovation companies, computer-software and gaming shops, employment agencies and other retail outlets. In 1997, Katong Shopping Centre was renovated with a new striking blue outlook. It is now mainly catered to the crowds from the nearby churches and hotels.
Since 2010, the strata-titled Katong Shopping Centre has been undergoing through en-bloc sales. It may be re-developed into a new commercial building if the en-bloc exercise is successful by the end of 2012.
The Oden Katong Shopping Complex beside Katong Shopping Centre was built in place of the old Oden Katong Theatre in the eighties.
Queensway Shopping Centre, Queensway (since 1976)
Completed in 1976, Queensway Shopping Centre is well-known for its large number of retail shops selling sneakers, tennis racquets, soccer boots and other sport apparels. Other retailers deal with fashion, photocopying and tailorship.
Standing at one corner of the busy cross junction between Alexandra Road and Jalan Bukit Merah, Queensway Shopping Centre has seen major changes in its neighbours in the last 35 years. Before 1990, the Archipelago Brewery Company, specialised in the popular Anchor Beer from the 1930s to 1960s, had its manufacturing plant, production line and warehouse at where Anchorpoint (hence its name) and Ikea are standing today. Bukit Merah SAFRA Club was opened in 1982, and was shut down in 2004 after 23 years of services. There are some redevelopment plans in building a hotel to replace it.
The busy cross junction used to be a round-about named Rumah Bomba Circus in the seventies. Malay street hawkers lined up outside Queensway Shopping Centre peddling delicious satay, otah otah and mee rebus, which were extremely popular with the patrons after their shopping sprees at the mall.
Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, Upper Serangoon Road (since 1970s)
Located at the junction of Upper Serangoon Road and Upper Paya Lebar Road, Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre was completed in the seventies. The four-storey heartland mall used to be filled with activities in bookshops, tailor shops, hair salons and even a tattoo shop.
The most famous tenant is perhaps Ah Lim, a nickname fondly called by the shoppers, who is the owner of the evergreen computer shop which sells the latest PC games at lower rates compared to other places.
Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre has become a ghost town in the past decade, with more than 70% of of the shops vacated. In 2010, there were plans to sell the building to a private developer for a major revamp, but nothing came out of it. Its fortune was not helped by the opening of Nex, the largest suburban shopping mall in the northeastern Singapore, in 2011.
Bukit Timah Plaza, Jalan Anak Bukit (since 1978)
Deemed as a higher end shopping mall during its heydays, Bukit Timah Plaza used to have many shops specialised in computer hardware and software, household products and a large Yaohan store (see Thomson Plaza below).
The fortune of the plaza declined since the late nineties. With the rapid decrease in the crowds, shops found it difficult to continue their businesses. Rental fees dropped and small renovation contractors companies and maid agencies moved in to become the dominant batch of tenants. Meanwhile, the NTUC FairPrice supermarket replaced Yaohan as the anchor tenant of Bukit Timah Plaza.
Bukit Timah Shopping Centre, Upper Bukit Timah Road (since 1978)
Once popular among the Malaysian tourists for its retail shops selling a wide variety of affordable clothing, Bukit Timah Shopping Centre is now largely dominated by renovation contractor companies and maid agencies, just like the nearby Bukit Timah Plaza.
Even though Bukit Timah Shopping Centre stands opposite of a row of popular eating houses, a lack of human traffic today makes the aging mall pale when compared to its heydays during the eighties. Only a couple of computer gaming shops and billiard saloons are able to lure some youths to the shopping mall, while food-lovers are attracted by a reputed restaurant specialised in nonya cuisine. Otherwise, the building is like a forgotten place frozen in time.
The construction of the Beauty World MRT Station of the Downtown Line (scheduled to be ready in 2015) may bring the old shopping mall back to life, but for the time being, it is destined to retain its reputation as a ghost town.
Thomson Plaza, Upper Thomson Road (since 1979)
Owned by DBS (Development Bank of Singapore), the $30-million project along Upper Thomson Road was handled by Japanese construction company Ohbayashi-Gumi as early as 1977. The shopping complex was fully completed in 1981.
During the eighties and nineties, Thomson Plaza was perhaps more well-known as Thomson Yaohan, due to its anchor tenant Yaohan (1979-1997), a Japanese departmental giant which also had other branches at Plaza Singapura (1974-1997), Bukit Timah (1982-1997), Parkway Parade (1983-1997) and Taman Jurong (1983-1989). After the Asian currency crisis in 1997/98, a bankrupted Yaohan was forced to close most of its operations in Asia. Yaohan Best, Yaohao’s subsidiary which specialised in electronic products, was restructured and became Best Denki.
After the closure of Yaohan, Thomson Plaza went through a period of decline before being revived by a series of upgrading. Its other long-time tenants include KFC and Yahama Music.
City Plaza, Geylang Road (since 1981)
Opened since 1981, the yellow-orange shopping mall at Geylang Road began as a mall filled with shops selling cheap Hong Kong-made clothes and dresses. It also used to have coin-operated massage chairs on its ground floor for tired shoppers.
Today, the mall is a favourite for bargaining experts who like to search for their treasures at the wholesalers in ladies’ fashion. The Arnold’s Fried Chicken on the second level is one of the most popular eating outlets in the building.
Located close to Geylang, the shopping mall has gained a notorious reputation in which old lecherous men can sometimes be spotted lurking around. It has also become one of the gathering points for the Filipino maids in Singapore during weekends.
Beauty World Plaza, Upper Bukit Timah Road (since 1983)
Beauty World Plaza is one of the old shopping malls clustered at Upper Bukit Timah Road, along with Bukit Timah Shopping Centre, Beauty World Centre and Bukit Timah Plaza.
Its name was derived from the Beauty World, an amusement park that once existed at Upper Bukit Timah, and was as popular as Gay World, New World and Great World at Kim Seng. The amusement park was converted into a market place after the Second World War.
Before the construction of Beauty World Plaza, there were the Beauty World Park Market and Beauty World Town, where both of them were destroyed by fires in 1975 and 1984. Years later, some of the stallholders and shop-owners were relocated at Beauty World Plaza and Beauty World Centre to continue their businesses.
Tanjong Katong Complex, Geylang Road (since 1983)
The first fully air-conditioned shopping mall managed by the Housing Development Board (HDB), Tanjong Katong Complex once housed the popular Japanese supermarket and department store Yokoso. In the nineties, other retail shops such as 2nd Chance (First Lady), Toko Lisa and Smart supermarket moved in. The mall is also well-known for selling traditional clothing and textiles. Its current major tenant is Shop N Save.
The construction of Tanjong Katong Complex began as early as 1980, on the site of a former Malay settlement at Lorong Engku Aman. Together with the adjacent Geylang Serai Malay Village, it has maintained its popularity among the Malay community for many years. The Malay Village was demolished in 2011, while Tanjong Katong Complex is given a lease extension of another 10 years, so as to allow the Malay trades to remain in this culturally rich area.
Parkway Parade, Marine Parade Road (since 1984)
An unmistakable landmark of Marine Parade since 1984, Parkway Parade was developed by Parkway Properties. Extremely popular since its opening, it also housed many unforgettable fast food restaurants, such as Hardee’s and Chuck E Cheese, that had long ceased their operations in Singapore.
In 2000, Parkway Parade was sold to Asia Pacific Investment Company, and after a series of upgrades, anchor tenants such as Giant Hypermarket, Best Denki, Isetan, Marks & Spencer and Borders (2007-2012) moved in.
It now boasts eight levels (including basement) of food and beverages, fashion, medical services, beauty salons, family entertainment and a fitness centre.
Holland Road Shopping Centre, Holland Avenue (since mid-1980s)
During the fifties and sixties, Holland Village thrived due to the presence of the British military staying at the nearby Chip Bee Gardens. Holland Village was feared to become a ghost town when the British started their withdrawal from Singapore in 1971, but luckily for the “westernised” neighbourhood, it was able to attract a new group of clientele in the locals and the expatriates.
Holland Road Shopping Centre has three levels of shops selling everything from Asian crafts and jewellery to furniture and carpets. Its large variety in arts, antique and crafts make the mall popular among the expatriates. Lim’s Arts and Living, one of its biggest stores, sells exotic items such as shisha pipes, African statues and Moroccan dinnerware.
In recent years, however, soaring rental fees and the inconvenience due to the construction of the Holland Road MRT Station have affected many tenants. Mama Joe Magazine Corner, one of the iconic tenants of Holland Road Shopping Centre, closed down in 2007 due to bankruptcy.
Holland Road Shopping Centre was given a fresh paint of orange coat after 2009. Before that, it had a white and blue theme.
Other Veteran Malls in Singapore
Serangoon Plaza, formerly known as President Shopping Centre, mainly caters for the middle-class. President Shopping Centre operated from the mid-sixties to early eighties. Mustafa’s founder Mustaq Ahmad first rented a store at Serangoon Plaza in 1985, before acquiring the whole row of shophouses at the nearby Syed Alwi Road to set up Mustafa Centre.
Goldhill Shopping Centre, built in 1969 as a low-rise retail-office hub, was owned by Malaysian developer Goldhill Group. The building will be affected by the construction of the new North-South Expressway scheduled to start in 2013.
Owned and managed by HDB, Balestier Hill Shopping Centre (since mid-1970s) and Boon Lay Shopping Centre (since early 1980s) are more like typical neighbourhood hubs rather than what their names suggest. Another similar HDB neighbourhood shopping hub was the Lake View Shopping Centre along Upper Thomson Road. However, it was demolished in the late nineties.
United Square or formerly Goldhill Square at Novena has been around since 1982, standing beside the Goldhill Plaza and Goldhill Shopping Centre. After successfully reinvented itself as a kids’ learning hub, the mall becomes popular among young families.
A $77 million project, Roxy Square was completed in 1984 at Katong. It is standing on the former site of Roxy Theatre, owned by the legendary Shaw Brothers.
Sembawang Shopping Centre was previously famous for its anchor tenant Sembawang Music Store, which had since ceased its operation in 2009 due to bankruptcy. The mall was refurbished and given a new look in 2007. The popular Sembawang Satay Club used to operate beside the shopping mall before its revamp.
Veteran Shopping Malls at Orchard and City
C.K.Tang/Tang Plaza, Orchard Road (since 1958)
The famous Tangs departmental store was founded by legendary Singaporean entrepreneur Tan Choon Keng (1901-2000), or fondly known as C.K. Tang. Born to a Teochew Presbyterian pastor in Swatow of China, Tang Choon Keng arrived at Singapore at an age of 23.
Began as a humble salesman, Tang Choon Keng soon saved enough to open a small shop at River Valley Road. In 1958, much to the surprise of others, Tang Choon Keng bought a plot of land at the corner of Orchard Road and Scotts Road for S$10,000. Being a devoted Christian, Tang Choon Keng had no concerns that the new building he was going to build was facing Tai San Ting Cemetery.
C.K. Tang Departmental Store went on to become the landmark of early Orchard Road, and kicked off the development of Orchard Road as a prime shopping district of Singapore. Modeled after the Forbidden City of China, C.K. Tang was designed with green-tiled roofs that remains as its iconic feature today.
In 1982, the former building of C.K. Tang was demolished and replaced by a larger complex made up of Tang Plaza and Marriott Hotel (formerly called Dynasty Hotel). A new slogan called “All the best under one roof” was launched with great success. Due to Tang Choon Keng’s Christian beliefs, Tang Plaza remained the only departmental store in Orchard to close on Sundays until 1996.
Tanglin Shopping Centre, Tanglin Road (since 1971)
Located along the bustling Tanglin Road, Tanglin Shopping Centre was built in 1971 as a luxury mall. One of its famous tenants in the early seventies was Club 21, a humble men tailor-turned-into high-end boutique for ladies.
Today, it has gained a reputation of a heritage and culturally-rich shopping mall where one can find Oriental shops specialising from exotic artifacts and antiques such old Buddha heads and Tibetan prayerbeads, to Southeast Asian textiles and Japanese furniture. There is also an extensive collection of vintage items in old movies, music CDs and books for nostalgia lovers.
Peninsula Shopping Centre, Coleman Street (since 1971)
The site where Peninsula Shopping Centre (and Hotel) is standing today has a prestigious history, going back all the way to the early 19th century.
In 1829, Raffles’ adviser and Irish architect George Drumgoole Coleman (1795-1844) built his residence at 3 Coleman Street (which was named after him). When Coleman left Singapore in 1841 due to ill health, the building changed hands several times. By 1865, it was converted into a high-end hotel until the Second World War. Its deteriorated conditions after the war saw its demolition in 1965, and had Peninsula Hotel and Shopping Centre built in its place in 1971.
Golden Mile Complex, Beach Road (since 1972)
The Golden Mile Complex (formerly known as Who Hup Complex) at Beach Road was one of the first commercial-residential projects in Singapore to integrate shops, offices and residences into one single building. Completed in 1973 (its shopping mall was opened a year earlier), the iconic landmark by the Kallang Basin won several architectural awards in the seventies.
Its fortune, however, declined in the mid-nineties. The lack of maintenance, dirty toilets and poor security caused it to be termed from the pride of a “vertical city” to the humiliation of a “vertical slum”. Others called it an eyesore or a national disgrace, due to its prominence beside the busy Nicoll Highway.
Tour agencies and shops selling Thai goods and cuisines now dominate Golden Mile Complex. It is filled with Thai foreign workers during the weekends. There were plans by its owner to sell the building in recent years but the move did not materialise due to disagreements by its shop and residential owners.
People’s Park Complex, Eu Tong Sen Street (since 1973)
The biggest shopping complex in Singapore upon its completion in 1973, the People’s Park Complex is one of the most prominent landmarks at Chinatown, the 31-storey building consists of 6 levels of shops and offices and a residential block of 25 floors.
For decades, the People’s Park Complex has been popular with the wide diversity of its retail shops, ranging from money-changing services, electronic goods, jewellery to travel agencies. It remains as one of most popular hangouts for shoppers during the Chinese New Year festivals.
Its owner, People’s Park Development Pte Ltd, also owned Katong People’s Complex (Katong Mall) from 1984 to 2009. The mall is now revamped into 112 Katong.
Far East Shopping Centre, Orchard Road (since 1974)
Far East Shopping Centre was one of Far East Organisation’s (FEO) first projects in the retail markets. Built in 1974, the shopping centre was the first mall in Singapore to have an atrium and external escalators.
The success of Far East Shopping Centre prompted Ng Teng Fong (1928-2010), head of FEO and one of Singapore’s richest men, to continue his venture at Orchard Road. Subsequently, Lucky Plaza (1978), Orchard Plaza (1981), Far East Plaza (1983) and Claymore Plaza (1984) were built. Ng Teng Feng became well-known as the “King of Orchard”.
Far East Plaza, in particular, became popular among youngsters from the eighties to nineties with its large variety of trendy fashion shops. 77th Street was one of its most popular tenants, operating at the shopping centre from 1988 to 2012.
Plaza Singapura, Orchard Road (since 1974)
While Centrepoint attracted the likes of trendy youngsters, Plaza Singapura was more suitable for family outings in its early days. One of the largest malls in Singapore upon its completion, Plaza Singapura was managed by DBS Land, which was the predecessor of CapitaLand.
In 1974, Japanese departmental giant Yaohan opened its first store in Singapore at Plaza Singapura. Subsequently, other famous brands such as OG, Times Bookstore, Yamaha Music, McDonald’s, Ponderosa, Daimaru and Courts Superstore moved in.
After going through two major revamps in 1998 and 2003, and had its basement linked to the Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station, Plaza Singapura continues to enjoy high popularity till today.
Orchard Towers, Claymore Road (since 1975)
Completed in 1975, the building of Orchard Towers has five levels of retail shops with 13 floors of offices on top. Since the nineties, Orchard Towers became a household name in Singapore, for the wrong reasons.
There are a couple of electronic shops, massage parlours and internet cafes in the building, but when the nights fall, the dozen of bars, pubs and clubs on the first four levels take over. Prostitutes and transvestites roam around, giving the place a notorious nickname of “Four Floors of Whores”. Due to its sleazy nature, Orchard Towers is subjected to regular police raids.
Peninsula Plaza, Coleman Street (since 1981)
Like Peninsula Shopping Centre which is situated on the opposite of Coleman Street, the site of Peninsula Plaza has a long history.
It was once the site of the residence of wealthy Chinese businessman Tan Kim Cheng in the late 19th century. Property developer Manasseh Meyer bought the place and developed it into a five-storey residential apartments with offices and shops known as the Meyer Mansions. The apartments were torn down in 1970. It was not until more than a decade later before Peninsula Plaza occupied its current location.
Peninsula Plaza has largely retained its appearance for the past 20 odd years. Its shops are specialised in a wide range of merchandise, such as household items, fashion, imported snacks and cameras and its accessories. Some of the shops, however, have notorious reputations of high-pressure selling tactics which the shoppers need to be cautious of.
The Arcade, Collyer Quay (since 1981)
The Arcade at Raffles Place, built in 1981, may look out of place standing among the new skyscrapers, but it has a long history stretching back to the early 20th century. Its predecessor was the Alkaff Arcade owned by the Alkaffs, Singapore’s prominent wealthy Arab family.
Completed in 1909, the Moorish-styled Alkaff Arcade was Singapore’s first indoor shopping centre stretching from Collyer Quay to Raffles Place. At four-storey tall, it was also the highest building at the time of its completion.
The former Arcade was demolished in 1978 to make way for the new Arcade at a construction cost of $20 million. The shopping-cum-office building is now famous for the intense competition among its numerous money-changers.
Centrepoint, Orchard Road (since 1983)
Centrepoint was built in 1983, replacing the old Cold Storage building. Renowned British retailer Robinsons became its flagship since then, occupying five levels after its move from the opposite Specialist’s Shopping Centre.
In the mid-eighties, Centrepoint was considered a trendy shopping mall and a popular gathering point among the youngsters, which saw the rise of the infamous Centrepoint Kids. As many as 2,000 teenagers gathered here every weekends. Most of them, dressed in loud outfits and hairstyles, were just engaging in normal conversations among friends, but a few committed illegal activities such as shop-lifting and glue-sniffing. Some fights occurred due to staring incidents. This gave the groups of youngsters a bad reputation, and prompted the police to keep an eye on the premises outside Centrepoint.
In 2006, after a major revamp, Centrepoint Shopping Centre was renamed as The Centrepoint.
Liang Court, River Valley Road (since 1985)
Standing beside Clarke Quay, Liang Court aims to provide an “Asian Fusion by the River” shopping experience for its customers. The 5-levels-2-basements mall takes on a Japanese theme, having MEIDI-YA supermarket and Kinokuniya bookstore as its anchor tenants, as well as a number of Japanese restaurants. MEIDI-YA at Liang Court is the Japanese supermarket’s second overseas branch after its first store in Amsterdam of Holland.
The Singapore River clean-up project was kicked off in 1977, and lasted almost a decade to keep it pollution free. When Liang Court was opened in 1985, the Singapore River was a vibrant and clear waterway beside the brown buildings of Liang Court and Novotel Hotel.
Liang Court underwent a major $40 million revamp in 2008.
Sim Lim Square, Rochor Canal Road (since 1987)
Like Funan Centre (opened since 1985), Sim Lim Square, or popularly known as SLS, is famous for it large variety of computers, handphones, cameras and other electronic gadgets. While Funan Centre is considered more upmarket and expensive, Sim Lim Square caters more for the general masses. It has, however, an unwanted reputation of scams and high-pressured selling tactics.
Consisting of six levels and two basements of retail shops selling all sorts of electronic and computing devices, Sim Lim Square offers the customers many choices at negotiable prices and bargains. However, the well-known IT mall has been plagued by dishonest and unethical business practices of some shops in recent years. Along with Lucky Plaza at Orchard Road, Sim Lim Square has gained a notorious reputation of “carrot-chopping” (scamming) the tourists.
Rise and Fall of Other Shopping Centres
Tay Buan Guan Supermarket, East Coast Road (1950s-2001)
Comprising of a Chinese emporium, jewellery shop, pharmacy, confectionery, refrigeration facilities and even a beauty saloon, Tay Buan Guan Supermarket sold everything from groceries, books, flowers to electrical appliances and household items. Housed in a building made up of 13 two-storey shophouses, the supermarket was a landmark at Katong and frequently patronised by the Peranakans, Eurasians and the English-educated Chinese.
Tay Buan Guan Supermarket’s founder Tay Leck Teck started off as a hawker at Joo Chiat before he saved enough to open a shop, and later set up the shopping centre in the fifties. It enjoyed some forty plus years of popularity and prosperity, but was later outshone by Katong Shopping Centre and Parkway Parade. In 2001, the building was bought over by a condominium developer and subsequently demolished.
Specialists’ Shopping Centre, Orchard Road (early 1970s-2008)
One of the oldest shopping centres at Orchard Road, Specialists’ Shopping Centre was home to Hotel Phoenix Singapore and, more famously, the John Little departmental store. It was originally named Specialists due to the concentration of medical specialists in its early days, and it was built in the site of the Pavilion Theatre in the early seventies.
Owned by OCBC Bank, the 30-plus years old mall and hotel were finally demolished in 2008 to be replaced by Orchard Gateway, a new mall with restaurants, offices, hotel rooms and a library linked between two towers.
Scotts Shopping Centre, Scotts Road (1982-2007)
Scotts Shopping Centre, at Scotts Road, was a high-end boutique mall mainly catered for wealthy Indonesian or other overseas customers. Opened in 1982, it had five levels of retail shops with a 23-storey service apartment building on top. The mall even had Singapore’s first air-conditioned food court, Picnic Foot Court, opened in 1985.
In 2004, Scotts Shopping Centre and the Ascott Serviced Residences were bought over by Wheelock Properties for $345 million. The buildings were subsequently demolished three years later, and replaced by a luxury apartment-and-retail complex known as Scotts Square.
Promenade Shopping Centre, Orchard Road (late 1980s-2003)
Promenade Shopping Centre was built at the site of the former Fitzpatrick’s Supermarket in the late eighties. In 2003, it was demolished to make way for the extension of the luxury high-end mall Paragon.
Other than the defunct shopping malls, major departmental retailers in Singapore that have closed in recent decades were Oriental Emporium (1966-1987), Yaohan (1974-1997), Daimaru (1983-2003) and SOGO (1986-2000).
Published: 13 June 2012
Updated: 28 June 2021