Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shop N Save (Peter Chan)

Among all my priorities and interests today, I am not exactly hot on shopping. I only shop when there is a need or a passion. For some there is the all-year round Great Singapore Sale: Die-die must shop to take advantage of the great savings from price reductions.
As an undergraduate, it was easy to pick up knowledge on what to wear and where to shop because I worked part-time as a musician in the hotels. Besides, there were my Arts/Social Science Faculty undergraduate friends who took to the cat-walk as fashion models, writing for HER WORLD magazine or part-timing as tour coordinators. We used our “talents” to earn our pocket-money and to pay the university course fees. There were times when we felt not quite sure whether we were undergraduates first or last, given the amount of time we spent away from the campus.


You find yourself easily exposed to the designer labels like Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgio Armani, instead of the mainstream ARROW or LEVIS brand. For young working ladies, there was London-trained Julia T.W. of Fashion Lodge/Miss Lodge who popularized the pillbox hat with veil in Singapore. And Celia Low with her house brand called “Celia” at Centerpoint.

Photo 1: Black is the fashion at ISETAN (c 1980)


After graduation, we went different directions but only two of my male friends made it into the retail industry whilst one close female friend made it to Cathay Pacific airline in Hong Kong. Last week, I met the two guys who first joined ISETAN and C K TANGS as merchandise- buyers. They are still with the same company and have witnessed some of the most “brutal wars” of the retailing business in the past 30+ years. Now what exactly would I like to talk about shopping in Singapore?


In the 1980s, there were a couple of international department stores that challenged “local boys” like METRO, Robinson’s, Marks & Spencer, John Littles, OG, Emporium and CK Tang.


Have you heard of Printemps, Tokyu or Galleries Lafayett?


Printemps was located at the Le Meridien Singapore Hotel in Orchard Road. Japan’s Tokyu was at Marina Square, and French store, Galleries Lafayett had two outlets in Liat Tower and Goldhill Square.

Galleries Lafayett at Liat Towers on Orchard Rd, 1987


Did you know ISETAN began at the Hotel Apollo Annex in Havelock Road? There was a DAIMARU in Liang Court. MITSUKOSHI of Japan had an outlet in the Tanjong Katong Complex.


Many of the foreign retailer stores could not survive the economic downturn in the 1980s. The first to bear the brunt was Hong Kong-owned Singapore Shui Hing’s; it closed down in 1983. Local retailers like Mohan’s Department Store on the ground-floor of Orchard Shopping Center and Peter Chew’s at Supreme House fell victims to the 1985 economic crisis and never recovered.

Photo 2: METRO Store at Supreme House (c 1974)


A decade earlier, Robina which opened in 1974 at Robina House, Shenton Way (now #1 Shenton) and a branch at The Orchard, was the first to close in the late 1970s. Robina’s main business line was ship-building through Robin Dockyard and it had other business interests through a company called Robin Information Systems, which distributed Hitachi Computers.


Shui Hing is one foreign retailer I cannot forget for two reasons; the first was its catchy jingle I heard over the radio when I drove to the office each morning at 7.45. Secondly, Shui Hing not only offered branded goods but a New York shopping experience.


Photo 3: Singapore Shui Hing ( c1983)


What is the New York shopping experience?

To many Singaporeans, this was so different shopping at METRO and Robinson’s. The store was modeled along Sears Roebuck, a giant American retail chain, hired American management staff, named its departments after New York streets and offered 80% products from the U.S. (something very unheard of in those days). It was so Americanized there was even the Statute of Liberty paraded on the ground floor of the store. It was actually a life-sized mannequin dressed in white satin holding a flaming torch from one of the top Singapore modeling agencies.

There’s one impression I got at this store: everything had to be big – XXL or thick in the wallet. Everything from its smallest attaché kit to golf bags had a distinctive look, good enough to make a strong statement. It was also pricey – the cheapest was at $50 for a toiletries kit. The store only accepted AMEX card, not even DINERS CLUB. VISA had not yet been introduced into Singapore.

For me I liked their leather goods department but I could buy one when Shui Hing’s held its closing-down sale in 1983. Before that, I could only admire its collection of leather bags and luggage – dual shade colors of burgundy and cognac. For me the alluring part was the smell of high-quality leather. At the closing-down sale, I picked up my favorite burgundy brief case for $100/- and promptly charged it to the AMEX card. When I first spotted that brief case, it was priced at $780, so this was indeed a good deal. It was either high retailer mark-up or it was genuine Milan leather product.

Now here’s a question. Where was Shui Hing located? Clue: This building still exists down in Orchard Road.








26 comments:

Lam Chun See said...

I remember Galleries Lafayette created a big stir during their opening.

How about Yaohan. I liked to shop at Yaohan; first at Plaza Singapura and later at Bt Timah Plaza.

I thought Tokyu was relatively recent; same time as Sogo at Raffles City.

FL said...

I think S'pore Shui Hing (SSH) was once located at no. 228 Orchard Road which is now occupied by Courts. It is opposite the Orchard Shopping Ctr. SSH opened around the early 1980s.

Anonymous said...

I would say the site is the old Orchard Point on Orchard.That is the side entrance shown.

Anonymous said...

Yaohan caused a stir because of its bread

Trudy said...

Shui Heng was at the place where Courts now is. There have been a couple of tenants at that location over the years. I remember OG was there and later John Little.
I had a temporary job in Orchard Road at that time and used to wander down during my lunch breaks.

Tah Chung said...

I think it is the ex-OG, next to The Emeralds (green building).

The Supreme mentioned above was the current Parkmall? I remembered there was a Silver Spoon Coffee House there.

candice said...

building is next Faber House (this is the name I remember, there was a bomb scare many years ago)... used to house OG, John Little and now Courts ?

There's also the Cortina Dept store at Colombo Court... anyone remember this ?

korina said...

Hi Chun See. It's Paul warner. I still remember the advert on TV for S'pore Shui Heng. It had a catchy tune although the store itself never caught on. Used to go to Yoahan at Plaza a lot with mum and brother. It had a small (by today's standards) but great amusement arcade on the ground floor. There was also a Yaohan at Upper Thompson.

denise said...

Hi - this is my first visit to your blog. It's a wonderful idea and I hope you keep it going. We need a 'place' to hang out and remember how Singapore used to be, because the Singapore that is now, feels hollow, despite the spit and polish conferred by 'progress' and 'success'.

I remember Shui Hing, and the catchy jingle :) I used to go there every Saturday afternoon I could, with a friend, after school ECA (as it was then called) - I LOVED the Jelly Belly jelly beans which were sold only at Shui Hing, as far as I knew.

denise said...

Oh, Shui Hing was located along Orchard Rd where Courts now is and where OG was before. Yes, pretty sure about it!

Anonymous said...

Can some one confirm whether Shui Hing was later occupied by C&E Tours or C&E Travels?

C&E stood for Cultural and Entertainment I guess.

Jay Yip said...

@Paul Warner: I remember Yaohan at Plaza Singapura... I used to have music lessons there in '75. Though I don't remember the ground floor amusement arcade, but I do recall the snack and food counters in the basement. They'd sell sweet drinks from syrup, fish balls on a stick and the like.

jean said...

@Jay Yip I think you're refering to the Yamaha music center on the highest floor of Yaohan. I used to take guitar lessons there in the early 80s. Afterwards I'd go down to the supermarket basement for said fishballs on a stick and the bakery's delicious sweet buns that were a novelty at the time. Also while I was there I never missed a chance to read nice & colourful foreign magazines without buying them(could not afford lah) at the big Japanese bookstore called Kashiyama I think. Man those were the days.

peter said...

The Shui Hing jingle sounds more like today's rap music. So rap music must be a "re-invention" or a RETRO then. Wonder who composed that jingle.

Yamaha Music School had music studios and a showroom at the top floor. I recall seeing some one's scultures on display on the ground floor. When I visisted Plaza Singapura 2day, I got a "cultural shock" How come the entire ground floor open space disappeared and so crowded with stalls?

peter said...

Was the sculture's theme "Mother & Son" or was it "father & Son"? Its colour was golden and shaped like a banana and resting on a pedestal.

Tah Chung said...

It is Mother and Son.

At one time, it was shifted outside Far East Shopping Centre (next to Hilton). It's current home is UCC (University Cultural Centre) at NUS.

Anonymous said...

While everyone is thinking food, remember the fried carrot cake stall? Where can you get that today as good as Yaohans, i`ve yet to find the same quality.

Selatke said...

You young people are talking mainly about department stores in the second half of the 20th century. Do you know the premier department stores in the early half of the last century besides Robinson?

Can anyone remember Whiteaway Laidlaw, which occupied the present site of Maybank Building in Battery Road? Or the Aurora Department Store at the corner of High Street and North Bridge Road?

Selatke said...

Before Orchard Road became the main shopping district, shopping activities used to be concentrated in the area around North Bridge Road between Coleman Street and Elgin Bridge, and High Street. I remember there was a long row of attap-roofed shop houses near the bridge selling clothing and other small items.

The Chinese has an unofficial name for this district, called Chui Siang Moon (水仙门). The English translation is ambiguous, either Water Fairy Gate or Narcissus Gate. The first name presumes a religious seafaring origin and the second presumes a flower market in the area once upon a time. There has been much discussions about the Chinese names and the debate is still ongoing.

Have you heard of the Chinese place name, and can you throw some light on its origin?

peter said...

Whiteaway was before my time. Aurora Department on High Street I've seen - High Street plenty of those fine-skin Mumbai Indians selling textiles. You know it's an Indian shop because they burn strong incense.

North Bridge Road starting from BATA Shoes to just before Elgin Bridge catered to English-speaking market. Metro was here until Emporium and one Singh department shop started (could it be Takral Emporium). There were Ceylonese owned shops selling jewellery and watches also.

After Elgin Bridge on the side of Boat Quay cater to Chinaman market. Shops here no a/c but ceiling fan. I think there was a Wing On selling winter clothes. I used to think this place sell Crocodile and white singlet clothings.

Selatke said...

I don't know about Wing On, but there was (maybe is) a Fook On at the corner of North Canal Road selling winter clothes. For my first trip to a cold country I bought a set of woollen long johns, scarf and leather gloves there.

After the birth of my daughter, I frequented a department store called in Chinese 'Yan Jing' (燕京)and ‘Peking’ in English, I think. It sold everything babies and young children need, including Napisan, the sterilizer for washing fabric nappies. (In those days we seldom if ever used disposable nappies or diapers.) It was located between Coleman Street and High Street

Along High Street, besides the Metro and Oriental department stores. I still remember my first treat at the original Polar Cafe and browsing and buying books at the Ensign Book Store.

peter said...

Selatke, u r absolutely right, Fook On. I keep remembering Wing On but's that another popular one in Hong Kong.

I thinnk there was a D'Silva shop in that vicinity. Remember seeing thgru the glass window display those lovely silverware candle stand (like what u see in Phatom of the Opera).

Lam Chun See said...

New photo of Galleries Lafayatte at Liat Towers just added.

jl said...

plaza sing, if i remember correctly

level 7 yamaha music sch
level 5/6 dbs land

level 2/3 ponderosa

level 1 macdonalds and the scary african looking bronze statutes

b1 yaohan

Chun See Lam said...

I have not been to Plaza Singapura for ages. Carpark was quite a problem. Often went Philirama to buy Philips products. And Yaohan of course.

Anonymous said...

Wow.... this blog brings back alot of good old memories. I grew up at Yamaha Music School. My teenage years in the 70's. Remember Kino Kuniya bookstore on the 2nd floor? Hahaha. Their collection of books was amazing at that time.