Get festive

Christmas magic in a bike shop

Mr Derrick Tan, owner of Henry Christmas Wholesaler, says the shop has been open since his grandfather opened a market in the space back in the 1930s.
Mr Derrick Tan, owner of Henry Christmas Wholesaler, says the shop has been open since his grandfather opened a market in the space back in the 1930s.ST PHOTOS: MARCELLIN LOPEZ
Henry Christmas Wholesaler sells holiday decorations such as wreaths.
Henry Christmas Wholesaler sells holiday decorations such as wreaths.
The shop occupies a street corner in Geylang.
The shop occupies a street corner in Geylang.
Visitors are greeted with baubles and fairy lights upon entering the store.
Visitors are greeted with baubles and fairy lights upon entering the store.

Henry Christmas Wholesaler in Geylang, which traces its roots to the 1930s, transforms into a winter wonderland at the end of every year

For most of the year, it is an unassuming wholesale shop selling bicycles at 734 and 736 Geylang Road.

Come September, however, Heng Yak transforms into a Christmas wonderland, decked out in colourful ornaments and wreaths.

Owner Derrick Tan, 55, says the shop's roots go back to the 1930s, when his grandfather opened a market in that same space.

The family began stocking a small collection of Christmas trees in the 1970s in response to rising demand from retail outlets and corporations.

It was Mr Tan who began dedicating the entire shop to Christmas decorations in 1990.

"I don't want this to just be a bicycle shop selling Christmas decorations," he tells The Straits Times.

"The moment someone steps into my shop, I hope he or she will be completely immersed in the festive atmosphere."

Today, visitors are greeted with a dazzling array of shiny baubles and fairy lights, as well as lively music and cool air, upon entering Henry Christmas Wholesaler.

"Henry" is a moniker given by customers, derived from the original name Heng Li, which means "everlasting beauty" in Chinese.

 
 
 

While many customers are looking to decorate their homes, restaurants or offices, Mr Tan says those who just want to admire the shop are welcome too.

He takes pride in designing the shop's interior, especially the storefront display, which changes every year.

Currently, it showcases a model steam train circling a charming village of snow-capped cottages.

Customers can also find a range of Christmas crackers, timber carvings of nativity scenes and cheery snowman figures alongside the trees and garlands in the shop.

"There is something new every year for my regular customers," adds Mr Tan, who says he makes a small profit from selling Christmas goods.

To him, the Christmas season is the most wonderful - but also the busiest - time of the year.

His preparations start around June with a month-long trip to various parts of China to source for quality decorations at the best prices.

He visits again to inspect his stock before it is shipped here.

Once Henry Christmas Wholesaler opens for business, he is in the shop from 9 to 1am daily.

Though the hours are long, the shop remains a passion of his.

"Some of my best memories are of attending Christmas parties," he says. "I love seeing how they are run and how the decorations are laid out."

He once threw a party for his staff on Christmas Eve where they celebrated with cans of instant snow and silly string in their shop.

Mr Tan, who uses a wheelchair due to a medical condition, occasionally takes a taxi from Tanglin Mall to Marina Bay Sands to admire the Christmas light displays in town.

While he is aware of the competition he faces in the industry, he believes his job is done as long as his products meet customers' expectations.

"If your decorations look good and last long, people will come," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2019, with the headline 'Christmas magic in a bike shop'. Print Edition | Subscribe