Tay Buan Guan Supermarket, one of Singapore’s earliest supermarkets, was established in 1948 by Tay Leck Teck.1 With the development of other commercial centres in the Katong area from the 1970s, Tay Buan Guan Supermarket floundered under the competition. The business wound up in 2000, and the building within which the supermarket was housed was put up for sale the following year. The building was subsequently demolished and the site is now occupied by a condominium.2
Tay Buan Guan Supermarket was founded by Tay Leck Teck, an entrepreneur who settled in the Joo Chiat area around 1937. Tay started out as an itinerant hawker, selling his wares that were loaded into two boxes tied to a bamboo pole and mounted on his shoulders. An enterprising, hardworking and thrifty man, Tay first saved money to buy a bicycle to carry out his business. Then he rented a shophouse and opened the first Tay Buan Guan shop, a provision shop, on Pennefather Road. To grow his business, Tay offered home delivery services to his customers, bringing their orders to their doorstep on his bicycle. He also sold goods on credit. His customers were mainly from the areas around Marshall Road, East Coast Road, Joo Chiat Road and Koon Seng Road. During the Japanese Occupation, Tay wound up his business. When the war ended, he re-established his business with renewed vigour, opening three shops on East Coast Road. The shops presumably did well as he was able to purchase a piece of land bound by East Coast Road, Joo Chiat Road and Fowlie Road in 1948. He built the Tay Buan Guan Supermarket on that piece of land, the first department store in the east.3
Tay Buan Guan Katong Shopping Centre at 83 East Coast Road officially opened on 21 January 1967. The ground floor of the building housed the Tay Buan Guan Supermarket, while a Chinese emporium, Singapura Emporium Limited, occupied the first floor selling China-made products. The second floor, known as the Supersave Centre, had 43 stallholders selling a wide variety of products and services at affordable prices. The third floor hosted a charming roof garden, and the supermarket floor also featured a modern milk bar. A confectionery was later added to the store, making the supermarket popular for its cakes and pastries. There was even a children’s corner with swings, see-saws and merry-go-rounds. All in all, the supermarket was designed to make shopping an enjoyable and pleasurable experience. It was a family business, registered as Tay Buan Guan (Pte) Ltd, with members of the family involved in various aspects of the business.4
The arrival of the supermarket created a stir among the people of Katong as it was the first one in the area. It was officially opened by the president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Soon Peng Yam. Residents of Katong patronised the supermarket regularly and it soon became very successful. Its customers were mainly the Peranakans (Straits Chinese), Eurasians and the English-educated Chinese. It was considered an upmarket place but with competitive pricing. The supermarket could be reached via a gap between rows of shophouses on its either side. Although its location was strategic, the shopfront was narrow and those not familiar with the place could easily miss the building.5
Tay passed away at the age of 70 on 16 September 1980.6
In 2001, Tay Buan Guan building, along with 13 freehold shophouses located at 83–119 East Coast Road, was put up for sale. Tay Buan Guan Supermarket had lost its appeal with the opening of modern shopping centres such as Katong Shopping Centre in 1973 and Parkway Parade in 1984. In addition, the development of the Marine Parade housing estate in the 1980s offered alternative services and shopping areas to Katong residents. In the 1990s, the supermarket was reduced to a neighbourhood convenience store. Its owners had to lease out part of their shop to other tenants to keep afloat. Finally, unable to keep up with the competition, Tay Buan Guan (Pte) Ltd voluntarily wound up in September 2000. In 2001, the Tay Buan Guan building was put up for sale.7 A condominium project, Malvern Springs, currently occupies the site.8
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
1. Jafri Mohamed, “A Katong Story,” Marie Claire (January 1993), 22 (Call no. RSING 052 MC); Lily Kong and T.C. Chang, Joo Chiat: A Living Legacy (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2001), 77. (Call no. RSING 959.57 KON)
2. “Resort Living in Katong,” Today, 19 January 2002, 9; Andrea Tan, “The Charms of Katong,” Business Times, 26 September 2002, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Mohamed, “Katong Story,” 22; Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 77.
4. Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 76, 77, 87; Singapore Indian Association, Singapore National Day Commemorative Souvenir, 1967 (Singapore: Singapore Indian Association, 1967), 26 (Call no. RCLOS 959.51 SIN); Soh Tiang Keng, “New Katong Store Sells Only Goods from China,” Straits Times. 21 January 1967, 16; Lim Beng Tee, “All Your Needs Under One Roof,” Straits Times, 21 January 1967, 13; “‘Service at the Door’ Plan a Success,” Straits Times, 21 January 1967, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “$1 Mil Shopping Centre,” Straits Times, 18 January 1967, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 77; Soh, “New Katong Store Sells Only Goods from China”; “‘Service at the Door’ Plan a Success.”
6. “Condolence,” Straits Times, 18 September 1980, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Katong Landmark Up for Sale,” Business Times, 4 December 2001, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Kong and Chang, Joo Chiat, 77, 87; Pat D’Rose, “A Lot of Country, a Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Straits Times, 13 June 1986, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Resort Living in Katong”; Tan, “Charms of Katong.”
The information in this article is valid as at 24 January 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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