Stallholders affected by the blaze which destroyed a market and coffee shop in Jurong West last October resumed business yesterday at a temporary market in front of Block 495, Jurong West Street 41.
In all, 23 of the 51 stallholders affected by the fire started selling produce from as early as 5am at the temporary market, which took six weeks to build.
The stallholders said it was crucial that the temporary market was opened ahead of Chinese New Year. One stallholder, who wanted to be known only as Madam Low, 50, had been selling seafood at the old market for the past 20 years. She said: "It will be busy for us every day, but even more so in the few weeks before Chinese New Year. Today, some customers have already ordered prawns from us in advance for their reunion dinners."
Fire had gutted the 31-year-old old coffee shop and wet market at Block 493 on Oct 11. A 41-year-old man, Lim Ying Siang, was charged with allegedly starting the fire by setting styrofoam boxes alight.
The temporary market was officially opened yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam. "(It shows that) when something unfortunate happens, everyone is able to come together to make sure that we recover, and do something even better," said Mr Tharman, who was joined by fellow Jurong GRC MPs Desmond Lee and Ang Wei Neng.
Days after the fire at the old market, a multi-agency effort was launched to help the stallholders. It included job fairs and financial assistance as well as emotional support from grassroots volunteers.
Plans to build a permanent market at Block 493 are on track, with construction due to begin in the middle of the year, Mr Ang announced at yesterday's event.
The new two-storey complex will house a market and an eating house on the first storey, with facilities for elderly residents on the second storey, he added.
It is estimated to be ready by the end of next year.
"We want to meet the needs of residents now and in the future. As the site is quite small, the only way to add facilities is to intensify the land use," said Mr Ang.
"The profile of the residents here is generally older, so eldercare facilities are well sought after."
The complex, which will cost about $6.2 million to build, will be fully funded by the Government.
It will feature wider aisles, better ventilation and elderly-friendly designs, such as non-slip tiles.
A total of 34 out of the 35 stalls available at the temporary market have been taken up by the 23 stallholders, including 70-year-old Wang Chiow Wee.
"I am happy to be back in business so soon. The temporary market is clean and spacious, but I especially miss seeing all the regular customers who have been supporting me over the years," said Mr Wang, who had been selling meat at the Block 493 market for the past 30 years.
He has taken up two stalls at the temporary market and will pay $900 a month for each stall. Mr Wang, who rented one stall at the old market for $2,000 a month, did odd jobs while waiting for the temporary market to be ready.
Several donors, temples, clan associations and other organisations raised about $600,000 to build the temporary market, which was completed on Dec 15.
"I enjoyed visiting the old market every weekend with my friends to buy vegetables and fish," said factory worker Pay Shaw Ping, 62, who has been living in Jurong West for 17 years.
"After it was burnt down, we had to go to another market farther away. But now, it is much more convenient and just in time for Chinese New Year too."