Counting down to the end of Rochor Centre

Madam Jung lives and works at Rochor Centre. But her days of earning $60 daily are over as fewer people visit the complex - she takes home just $6 a day now.
Madam Jung lives and works at Rochor Centre. But her days of earning $60 daily are over as fewer people visit the complex - she takes home just $6 a day now.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
The unit numbers of flats in Rochor Centre are placed underneath staircases, instead of on the walls like in other estates.
The unit numbers of flats in Rochor Centre are placed underneath staircases, instead of on the walls like in other estates.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Shop owners see slow business at HDB complex as more tenants move out before Sept 30 deadline

Madam Jung Kim Choo, 87, who has manned a ground-floor public toilet at Rochor Centre for almost two years, said she used to make $60 a day, but now earns about $6.

"In the past, this place was bustling... There would be so many Malaysians visiting and shopping," said Madam Jung, who is also a resident at the centre. She has lived there in a four-room flat with her daughter, 66, since it was built in 1977.

It does not help that many shops at the centre in the Bugis area have moved out. As of January, 106 out of 183 shops had already closed and moved away.

 
 

FRUSTRATION

It is already our third shift. First, (it was from) Blanco Court, then (from) Victoria Street, and now here. Even if I've made memories here, I will have to forget them all because we are moving yet again.

MRS YEO, a shopkeeper whose son is the owner of party supplies shop Yeo GM Trading, on moving out of Rochor Centre.

Rochor Centre will make way for the new North-South Expressway by the end of this year, and shop tenants said business has slowed since the announcement of the centre's closure.

The place used to be frequented by devotees buying religious goods on the way to nearby temples, such as the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple. But these days, only six of the 15 shops selling religious goods, such as statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities, are still open.

  • 10 FACTS ABOUT THE BUILDING

  • ALL-WHITE BLOCKS: Built by the Housing Board in 1977, the four blocks that make up Rochor Centre used to be all-white until they were repainted to their current four colours during the Interim Upgrading Programme in 1994.

  • PODIUM-AND-TOWER STYLE: Like other estates built in the same period, Rochor Centre was designed in the "podium-and-tower" style. It has three floors of retail space, a playground on the fourth floor, and residential units from the fifth to the 16th floor.

  • BOTTOMS UP: The unit numbers of flats in Rochor Centre are placed underneath staircases linking the levels, instead of on the walls like in most HDB estates.

  • NIGHT SOIL POINT: In the 1970s and 1980s, it was often associated with the odour of faeces, as there was a night soil deposit point located opposite it, where Albert Complex stands today.

  • TRANSVESTITES AND TOURISTS: When the old Bugis Street closed in 1985, transvestites frequented the area near Rochor Centre to pose for pictures with tourists.

  • HOME FOR THE AGED: Rochor Centre housed the first old folks' home located at a void deck, on the fourth floor. Called the Rochore Kongsi Home for the Aged, it was opened in 1977 by Dr Toh Chin Chye, then Deputy Prime Minister and Member of Parliament of the area.

  • LITTLE JOHOR: In the 1980s, Rochor Centre was called "Little Johor" as it was popular with Malaysians, who found shopping there cheaper than in their home country.

  • CABS TO MALAYSIA: The nearby Ban San Street Taxi Kiosk is the only place in Singapore where people can get a Malaysia-registered taxi to ferry them to any location in Malaysia.

  • 'ROCHORE': For years, Rochor was spelled with an "e". The last known use of the name "Rochore" was in the 2000 Budget debate.

  • ERP TECH FOR CARPARK: In 2003, Rochor Centre's carpark was one of the first public carparks - along with one in Toa Payoh Central - to implement an automated charging system using Electronic Road Pricing technology as well as per-minute charging.

    Rachel Chia and Dominic Teo

"Business is getting worse and worse. I close the shop at about 5pm each day as there is usually nobody after that," said Mr Ong Chin Lai, 68, an employee of 20 years at religious goods shop Sin Yong Long.

Rochor Centre's shop tenants have to move by Sept 30, but most of the shops that are still open have yet to find a new place.

Mr Kum Yuen Chuen, 56, owner of Hup Yick Furniture, which sells Buddhist and Taoist altars, said: "There are no more shops in Singapore with sizes as big and rent as cheap as the ones here.

"And I need the space to display my products, so finding a good replacement looks impossible."

Others, such as a shopkeeper who wanted to be known only as Mrs Yeo, were frustrated at yet another move. Said Mrs Yeo, 70, whose son is the owner of party supplies shop Yeo GM Trading: "It is already our third shift. First, (it was from) Blanco Court, then (from) Victoria Street, and now here.

"Even if I've made memories here, I will have to forget them all because we are moving yet again."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'Counting down to the end of Rochor Centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe