SINGAPORE – Selling produce from crates and cardboard boxes strewn across a road, a wholesale night vegetable market in Toa Payoh has served as a cheap source of greens for households and eateries for more than half a century.
But from Aug 19, the market will close owing to the development of housing in the area.
Open six days a week from about 11pm to 5am, the market operates along a 200m stretch of Toa Payoh East leading to an industrial park.
“With the upcoming housing developments in Toa Payoh East, higher traffic use on the road is expected, which would make the place unsuitable for the market operations,” said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
Describing the market as an informal distribution site where vendors operate without paying rent, it said its closure will have minimal impact on the local food supply chain due to its “small and limited” scale and operation.
Operators may relocate to other sites such as the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, market stalls in centres managed by the National Environment Agency, or stalls in single-operator markets, added the agency.
Relocating would provide these operators with sheltered facilities that would ensure greater sustainability for businesses and safety for customers, it said.
Noting that there are currently 10 vendors at the site, SFA said it is working with other government agencies to help them identify suitable sites to allow them to continue their businesses.
Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao reported on Saturday that several agencies – including the SFA, the Housing Board (HDB) and the Land Transport Authority – had informed the vendors last Monday of the impending closure.
Several HDB Build-to-Order projects will be coming up in the area, including Kim Keat Ripples, scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2025.
When The Straits Times visited the site on Saturday night, long queues of customers were spotted.
One vendor, Mr Ong Eng Seng, said he has been selling vegetables since 1968, when the surrounding area was undeveloped.
There had been closure rumours in previous years, added the 77-year-old.
Media reports had said the vendors could not find younger people to take over their trade, and that they faced competition from 24-hour supermarkets.
The market closed for two weeks in September 2021 after several Covid-19 cases were reported there.
Mr Ong said that if he were to move to other sites such as the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, his business – which occupies most of one side of the road – would not be able to operate on the same scale as there would be less space.
Prices may also go up due to additional expenses such as rental, he added.
Another vendor, who wanted to be known as Mr Liew, said he may take a break when the Toa Payoh site closes.
Mr Liew, who is in his 60s, said he would not be able to compete with more established players at other locations.
Some customers said they were unaware of the new development.
Mr Sharif Hidayahtullah, 28, who was there with his sister, said he has been turning up on weekends for about seven years, drawn by the prices. The pair run a pop-up popiah business, King Popiahlicious, with their parents.
Mr Sharif noted that buying about 60kg of turnips and 40kg of cucumbers for their business would cost about $150 at Toa Payoh East, compared with $250 elsewhere.
Looking ahead, he said he would consider going to a night vegetable market operating at a carpark in Ubi.
Another customer, driver Siva Balan, 32, said he paid $18 for 500g of pandan leaves versus $30 elsewhere.
A long-time Toa Payoh resident who identified himself as Mr Feroz said the market has changed from its earlier days, when vendors would accept only bulk orders of several kilograms.
The 37-year-old, who runs a minimart in Jalan Besar, said other sites such as the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre are relatively out of the way compared with Toa Payoh, which is in central Singapore. “It’s a loss for the Toa Payoh area,” he said.