Hundreds of people flocked to the Sungei Road flea market on Sunday (9 July), ahead of its impending closure. While it was business as usual for vendors, Yahoo News Singapore observed a mixed bag of visitors to the market, ranging from curious first-timers to regular shoppers and families lugging trollies.
In February, the government announced that the market would be shut down permanently following its last day of operation on 10 July, with the site set to be prepped to “facilitate future residential development use”. While a petition seeking an alternative location for the market was delivered in Parliament last week, it does not appear to have affected its fate.
The market, which began in the 1930s, has dealt largely in second-hand items such as shoes, clothes, CDs, toys and watches, along with other knick-knacks and electronic items. It was also once known as the “Thieves Market” for allegedly retailing in stoled goods. Of the 31 rag-and-bone men who were issued permits to operate on the streets in the 1970s to 1980s, only 11 were still operating at the market as of February this year.
Vendors concerned over their future
For many of the vendors that Yahoo News Singapore spoke to, the market’s closure left them feeling nostalgic but also concerned over their future.
“After working here for so many years, it’s really sad to see a place where I’ve spent nearly half my life at, gone just like that”, said vendor Huang Tang, 62, who was selling some ornaments and some jewelry with his wife. He added that human traffic at the market has increased significantly since news of its closure broke.
While the National Environment Agency (NEA) has offered vendors lock-up stalls at nearby hawker centres, such as the Golden Mile Food Centre, most said that they would seek assistance from the government only after the market’s official closure as they are not sure what to do yet.
A vendor who wanted to be known only as Ah Tan, 66, said in Mandarin, “I’m not sure if I want to apply for government assistance yet, I’m not even sure if I want to continue hawking.”
Some vendors also felt that a lock-up stall would not be suitable for them. Vendor Lai Sheng Wai, 56, said he decided not to move to a hawker centre as he might not earn as much there due to the low levels of human traffic.
“People go there to eat without the intention to buy anything else,” he said. “Besides, the rent there is so expensive, we probably won’t be earning anything at all.”
Another vendor, 48-year-old Haiqal Izziq, who sells second-hand CDs, felt that change is just part and parcel of life. “I guess we just have to move on with life. It’s not like we can do anything about it anymore,” he said.
Among the visitors to the Sungei Road market on Sunday were those who wanted to see it one last time before it is closed, including some first-timers.
“I decided to bring my family here as we wanted to see the market for ourselves before it closes down. This will be our first and last time here,” said Ian Ng, 37, who was there with his wife and their two children.
“I’ve read stories on its closure and felt it would be a good experience for my kids to visit the market,” said Ng’s wife Ellise, 34.
Polytechnic graduate Manfred Ong, 20, who was at the market with a friend said, “I came here to see a different side of Singapore, one that is neglected – with people scraping by to make a living in the middle of skyscrapers.”
“I’ve visited the market since young and have bought hundreds of items over the years. I will definitely miss this place, it has so many memories,” said banker Timothy Wong, 39, who has been going to the market with his family since he was a boy.
“The government just closed an 80-year old heritage site. It feels like Singapore just lost a part of its history. Future generations won’t get to experience this street market culture,” he added.