Standalone kiosks operating at the void decks of old Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks, fondly known as mamak shops, were common sights in the eighties and nineties. At their peak, they numbered more than 500 in different parts of the island.
However, by the late nineties, the rise of neighbourhood minimarts and convenience stores had edged out these mamak shops, and their numbers dwindled to only 300-plus currently.
A typical mamak shop, like the old mamak shop located at the corner of a shophouse at MacPherson, sells mainly basic necessities, such as eggs, instant noodles, canned food and bottled drinks. Cigarettes, batteries, magazines and newspapers are also popular items on sale.
“Mamak” in Tamil means uncle, which probably explains the reason why these provision shops are called mamak shops. Usually they are manned by the Indian Muslims.
Other than located at the void decks of old flats, many mamak shops are set up in old shophouses, where they have more freedom to sell their items on the five foot way. Large variety of goods are laid out neatly on shelves and walls, while magazines are hanged on display, ensuring no spaces are wasted.
With the current crop of mamak shop owners unwilling to pass their businesses to their next generations, as well as facing tough competitions from supermarts, minimarts and convenience stores who are able to keep their prices low from ordering big bulks of goods, the future of local mamak shops is bleak.
The picture below shows a typical mamak shop at the void deck of a flat in an old estate.
Probably in another decade or so, we will see the last of these familiar kiosks in Singapore.
Published: 01 September 2011
Updated: 27 August 2021