Sungei Road Flea Market in the 1980s / photo: roots.sg - National Archives of Singapore.

Sungei Road Flea Market to close permanently after 10 July

Thieves’ Market, the oldest and largest flea market at Sungei Road, will shut permanently after  10 July, a joint statement from various agencies said on Tuesday (14 Feb).

The Government will take back the site of the flea market, which is located between Jalan Besar and Rochor Canal Road, for ground preparation works for future residential development use.

The joint statement said, “The Government has assessed that such street trades should only be allowed to continue in designated venues like trade fairs and flea markets, rather than on a permanent basis, to minimise disamenities to the public.”

Out of 31 originally permitted to operate in the 1970s to 1980s, the number of rag-and-bone men who are still operating at Thieves’ Market is now only 11. They will be given the option of operating lock-up stalls at Golden Mile Food Centre and Chinatown Market at subsidised rates after the flea market closes. The allocation of the lock up stalls will be by ballot, the statement said.

The authority said Social Service Offices will arrange for financial assistance, while Workforce Singapore will provide employment services to vendors who may require such help, not explaining how the 70 to 80-years-old peddlers could get financial assistance or benefit from employment services.

“While the Sungei Road Hawking Zone 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,” it stated.

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Since July 2011, the famous Sungei Road Thieves Market, or Flea Market as it is sometimes known, has been reduced from its original size to facilitate the construction of the upcoming Jalan Besar MRT train station.

In 2014, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has confirmed that the iconic flea market at Sungei Road will be erased forever. The Thieves Market would have to make way for the new Sungei Road MRT station, NEA confirmed to the President of the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods, Mr Koh Ah Koon.

Mr Koh had told of how the Association wrote to the Government, requesting for another space for the peddlers, especially for older individuals, to continue with their businesses. He noted that for many older folks, their trade at the flea market had been their source of income for years and that it would be tough for them to obtain new jobs.

The NEA had turned down proposals for the flea market to move to alternative sites. In July 2014, the Association had suggested for the relocation of the market to one of four alternative sites near the original Sungei Road location.

Mr Koh Ah Koon, president for the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods
Mr Koh Ah Koon, president for the Association for the Recycling of Second Hand Goods

Mr Koh also had outlined some of NEA’s suggestions for the displaced peddlers, including taking courses to gain new skills to work in other industries with support from the Central Community Development Council. NEA also offered vendors to bid for stalls to rent in hawker centres.

“If the old folks had the money to bid for a hawker centre stall, they wouldn’t have the need to come here, you see, scorched by the sun, drenched by the rain,” Mr Koh had said, he noted that the vendors at the market did not sell food anyway.

 

The flea market at Sungei Road is Singapore’s largest and oldest flea market. While the exact origin of the flea market remains unclear, historical records have shown that the flea market began as a small trading spot that sprouted along the river during the mid-1930s. It started out as a venue for people to sell stolen goods, hence the moniker.

In the later years, it has been home to vendors who sell used items from shoes and vinyl records to watches and laptops; it operates daily from 1pm to 7pm.

Marketplace along Rochor Canal and Sungei Road / photo: roots.sg - collection of National Museum of Singapore
Marketplace along Rochor Canal and Sungei Road / photo: roots.sg – collection of National Museum of Singapore

The National Heritage Board has compiled research and documentations on the flea market and its vendors to preserve memories of the site for future generations. Some of these efforts could be reached on Roots.sg website.

Remember Singapore also had an article posted on Sungei Road Thieves Market.