Rousing farewell for Bukit Timah minimart owners after 20 years

Husband-and-wife shopkeepers have seen customers grow from babies to adults at Toh Yi fixture

Mr Lim Kok Peng (in red) with his wife Chen Meng Keun beside him at a farewell party organised by residents yesterday. The couple are retiring after running Lim De Li minimart in Toh Yi for almost 20 years. With them at the party were (from left) grassroo
Mr Lim Kok Peng (in red) with his wife Chen Meng Keun beside him at a farewell party organised by residents yesterday. The couple are retiring after running Lim De Li minimart in Toh Yi for almost 20 years. With them at the party were (from left) grassroots leader Neo Tiam Ting; Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat; Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Sim Ann; and grassroots leader Kenny Sim. Mr Heng and Ms Sim are among long-time customers of the minimart.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Toh Yi resident Koo Cheng Puay has visited the Lim De Li minimart at 5.45pm sharp every day for the past 10 years, to pick up a newspaper and chat with the store owner, but the curtain has just come down on that beloved routine.

The minimart, a fixture in the Bukit Timah estate for almost 20 years, closed yesterday but not without a bit of a splash.

Mr Koo, a 74-year-old retired bus timekeeper, was one of many residents who dropped by to say goodbye to owners Lim Kok Peng and Chen Meng Keun at a farewell party organised by residents.

The event also attracted customers like Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Holland-Bukit-Timah GRC MP Sim Ann.

It was a bittersweet goodbye for Mr Lim, 64, and his wife, Madam Chen, 63, who have retired as they felt age was catching up with them. The couple have two sons, aged 33 and 30, and two grandchildren.

"I've grown old, and my kids are all grown up and have their own careers. It's time to move on," said Mr Lim.

He will miss the residents and his neighbouring shopkeepers the most. "We've been around here for so long - we know a lot of them. Some came to us as babies and now they're all grown up."

He and Madam Chen operated the shop with Mr Lim's older sister and a hired assistant from 6am until around 8.30pm, with few rest days.

"I am honoured to have served the Toh Yi residents for the past 20 years," said Mr Lim.

TIME TO MOVE ON

I've grown old, and my kids are all grown up and have their own careers. It's time to move on.

MINIMART OWNER LIM KOK PENG, 64, who has two sons and two grandchildren.

Despite the gruelling hours, Madam Chen said her fondest memories are being with the residents at the shop. "All of our time was spent here. Of course, we will miss everyone here," she said.

Yesterday's party was organised by residents with the help of the Bukit Timah Toh Yi Residents' Committee and youth service organisation Blossom World Society.

It was attended by more than 50 residents, with many others popping by to bid Mr Lim and Madam Chen goodbye.

Long-time customer Rita Naidu, 82, has been patronising the minimart for the past 17 years.

"He (Mr Lim) would always smile and say 'hi' to us, and come up to ask if we needed any help," said the retired nurse.

Mr Lim also counts "famous" people among long-time clients, including Mr Heng, who used to frequent the shop as he lived nearby, and Ms Sim, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information.

Ms Sim said: "We know that growth and change in every neighbourhood are inevitable, but when a familiar face disappears... people will feel a sense of loss."

The ground-up event was a proper send-off for Mr Lim, said Ms Sim, adding that the storekeeper has always been a friendly face in the neighbourhood.

"This is a way of us thanking him for his years of service," she added.

The couple plan to spend more time with their grandchildren, said Madam Chen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 29, 2019, with the headline 'Rousing farewell for Bt Timah minimart owners after 20 years'. Subscribe