The Army Market at Beach Road is one of those old familiar places in Singapore that is famous for its consolidation of shops selling similar goods. Like the Sungei Road Thieves Market which sells second-hand stuffs, or Victoria Street Wholesale Centre that specialises in groceries and dry provisions, ask any male Singaporeans for sources of military apparel and paraphernalia and the answer you would likely to get is the Beach Road Army Market.
Situated on the second level of Golden Mile Food Centre, beside Kampong Glam Community Club along Beach Road, the Army Market boasts 111 stalls, majority of them selling military gears ranging from camouflaged uniforms, boots and ponchos to sleeping bags, mosquito nets and Swiss knives. The Golden Mile Food Centre itself had a significant history. Opened in 1975 for the resettlement of the street hawkers from Jalan Sultan, it is now popular for its char kway teow, Hokkien mee, lor mee and chicken rice.
The Army Market had enjoyed brisk businesses especially during the nineties. Many of the older generations of male Singaporeans knew exactly where to get replacement for lost military items or equipment, so as to avoid signing the infamous SAF 1206 and receiving punishment. “Exotic” items were once on sale, but today the Army Market no longer carries illegal stuffs, especially after the high-profiled case in 2010 in which one of the storekeepers was fined and jailed for selling a M16 firing pin.
The introduction of eMart by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) since 1997 had a big impact to the decline of the Army Market. The convenience of having an eMart store in most military camps and the free credit system granted to every National Service (NS) personnel meant that traveling to Beach Road and forking out cash to buy basic apparel is no longer necessary.
Another blow to the Army Market would be the closure of the nearby Beach Road Camp in 2000.
The Army Market, however, still has its value as it sells extra items or provide services that are missing in eMart, such as helmets and the sewing of ranks and name tags for the camouflaged uniforms. But even this service took a hit in the late 2000s when the new pixel uniforms for SAF, designed with slot-on and Velcro features for ranks and badges, were introduced. In 2002, the Army Market underwent a makeover, with trendy stores selling vintage clothes moving in to fight for space with the original military-themed shops.
Almost all of the shopkeepers at the Army Market have bought their stores under the Government’s Stall Ownership Scheme in 1996. Today, the businesses have declined to an extent that many of the owners are struggling to earn just a few hundreds a month. With their 20-year leases expiring by the end of 2015, the owners, most of them already in their 60s and 70s, are pondering retirement and winding up their trades for good.
Sitting on the stretch of prime lands along Beach Road, there is a possibility that the premises of Beach Road Food Centre and the Army Market will be put up for private development after 2015. The Victoria Street Wholesale Centre had already shut down, while the Sungei Road Thieves Market will soon make way for the construction of MRT Downtown Line. Will the Army Market suffer the same fate of demolition?
Published: 30 March 2013