Decades-old Sungei Road flea market to shut for good; July 10 will be its last day

Remote video URL
People looking at second-hand or used merchandise at the Sungei Road flea market. PHOTO: ST FILE
In 2011, the Sungei Road site was reduced to half its size in order to make way for the construction of the new Sungei Road MRT station. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Eight decades of history at Sungei Road flea market will come to an end this July (2017).

In a multi-agency statement on Tuesday, the Government said that the hawking zone's last day of operation will be July 10. The flea market will make way for future residential developments..

The Straits Times understands that roads in the area could be re-aligned as well.

The statement was issued by the National Environment Agency (NEA), Ministry of National Development, Ministry of Social and Family Development, Workforce Singapore, National Heritage Board (NHB) and Singapore Police Force. It noted that the 31 rag-and-bone men from the Sungei Road site were not included in the Government's street hawker resettlement programme to purpose-built markets and hawker centres back in the 1970s and 1980s "because of their chosen trade".

They were given permits and allowed to continue at Sungei Road. Only 11 permit holders still operate there today.

The NEA will be offering these remaining permit holders the option of operating at lock-up stalls at selected hawker centres at subsidised rental rates following the closure of the flea market.

Meanwhile, vendors who are registered with the police under the Secondhand Goods Dealers Act will need to provide a new business address if they wish to continue to ply their secondhand goods trade elsewhere.

The authorities said that Social Service Offices will facilitate financial assistance and Workforce Singapore will provide employment services under existing schemes to eligible vendors who may require such help.

They added that while the site has had a long history, and holds special memories for many Singaporeans, "over time, the nature of the site has changed, as reflected in both the profile of vendors and buyers, and type of goods sold".

Previous articles have reported that "opportunistic traders" are attracted to the site, also known as Jalan Besar market, because of its rent-free and city location. The authorities have had to conduct checks on the sale of prohibited goods regularly.

Residents have also complained about the market located at the junction of Jalan Besar and Rochor Canal Road. One grouse is about traders who store goods in their void decks.

The Government said that such street trades should be allowed only to continue in designated venues such as trade fairs and flea markets, rather than on a permanent basis.

It noted that the NHB has conducted research and documentation efforts on the market and its vendors to preserve memories of the site.

Mr Koh Ah Koon, 76, the president of the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods representing about 70 of about 200 stalls at the market, said he is disappointed by the news.

He told ST that the closure of the site could push some peddlers back to the ways of the past when they squatted illegally. He added that his association had proposed four alternative sites but these had been rejected by the authorities.

He said: "At least 80 per cent of us are elderly folk in our 60s, 70s and 80s who depend on our stalls for income. We hope we will be able to keep this traditional trade and way of displaying our wares alive."

Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin said that it is a pity that alternative solutions were not found. She said the market is a good example of a functioning community and economic system and a facet of Singapore's rich and diverse urban life.

Dr Chua said: "This is the only free hawking zone in Singapore. We will be losing the sense of an organically formed flea market. A whole community will be dispersed and can no longer congregate as second-hand sellers.

"The Sungei Road flea market is an important part of our landscape that makes Singapore more than just shopping malls."

The flea market began as a small trading spot that sprouted along the river during the mid 1930s.

In 2011, the Sungei Road site was reduced to half its size in order to make way for the construction of the new Sungei Road MRT station.

The space allotted for each peddler is limited to a metre-by-metre and offered on a first-come-first-serve basis. Vendors are permitted to sell only second-hand or used merchandise.

The market is open from 1pm to 7pm daily and is popular with tourists, foreign workers and locals flock there on weekends to buy bits and bobs such as old coins, stamps, cassettes, jewellery, clothes and electronic gear.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.