Tay Buan Guan Supermarket
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Tay Buan Guan Supermarket, one of Singapore's earliest supermarket, was established in 1948 by Tay Leck Teck. With the mushrooming of shopping centres in the Katong area subsequently, Tay Buan Guan Supermarket floundered under the competition. In 2000, the business wound up, and in 2001, the building within which the supermarket was housed was put up for sale to make way for a new condominium project.
Tay Buan Guan Supermarket was founded by Tay Leck Teck, an entrepreneur who came to live in Joo Chiat around 1937. Tay Leck Teck, started off as a travelling hawker, selling his wares that were loaded into two boxes, tied to a bamboo pole and mounted on his shoulders. An enterprising, hard working and thrifty man, he 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 in Pennefather Road. To develop his business, he offered home delivery services to his clients, 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 war, he wound up his business. But after the war ended, he returned to his business with a renewed vigour, opening three shops on East Coast Road. The shops presumably did well as in 1948, he was able to purchase a piece of land bound by East Coast Road, Joo Chiat Road and Fowlie Road. He built the Tay Buan Guan Supermarket on that piece of land, the first department store in the east.
The Tay Buan Guan Supermarket had a Chinese emporium, a costume jewellery shop and a pharmacy within its premises. A confectionery was added to the store later making the supermarket popular for its cakes and pastries. The Chinese emporium was called the Singapura Emporium Limited and it occupied the first floor of the 4-storey building. The ground floor and the second floor were home to several departmental stores, while the third floor hosted a charming roof garden. The second floor was popularly known as the Supersave Centre and it had stores selling electrical appliances, books, art and craft items and household products. A modern beauty saloon was located on the second floor as well. The ground floor offered facilities such as banking, and had shops selling jewellery, clothes, flowers and pets. This floor also had a modern milk bar and a supermarket situated on it. All in all, the supermarket was designed to make shopping a very pleasurable experience. It was a family business, registered as Tay Buan Guan (Pte) Ltd , with various members of the family involved in various aspects of the business.
Tay Leck Teck himself passed away in 1980 at the age of 80, leaving behind a legacy. The arrival of the supermarket created a stir amongst the people of Katong as it was the first one in Katong. Its opening ceremony was attended by well-known personalities. Residents of Katong patronised the supermarket regularly and it became very successful. It was considered a upmarket place to shop in the 1950s and 1960s. The supermarket stocked a whole range of goods, many of which were neither available easily nor found in other places. The store was one of the earliest shops with refrigeration facilities in Singapore and was the preferred place to shop for groceries. It also housed a car park to make it convenient for its customers. Its clients were mainly the Peranakans, Eurasians and the English-educated Chinese. The supermarket could be reached via a gap between rows of shophouses on its either side. Though its location was strategic, the shopfront was narrow and those not familiar with the place could easily miss the building.
The Tay Buan Guan Supermarket was made up of 13 freehold shophouses, some 2-storeys high, located at 83-119 (odd numbers) East Coast Road. The supermarket lost its popularity with the opening of modern shopping centres like the Katong Shopping Centre in 1973 and the Parkway Parade in 1984. In addition, the Marine Parade housing estate developed extensively in the 1980s and offered an alternative range of facilities to the Katong residents. In the 1990s, the supermarket was reduced to a neighbourhood convenience store, being overtaken by Parkway Parade. The owners of Tay Buan Guan Supermarket had to resort to leasing out their shops to food operators and others 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. The shophouses, ranging from 1,094 sq. ft. to 1,469 sq. ft., were said to have an indicative sale price of S$1,300-S$1,400 per square foot on land area. They were bought over by a condominium developer.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
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The information in this article is valid as at 2003 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.