Poh Gim Wee has been operating his Mama shop at Block 41 Sims Drive ever since the boom of these standalone kiosks in the 1980s. The 83-year-old takes a bus daily from Geylang East where he is staying at, to his shop where time seems to have stood still. The operating hours are from 8.30am – 8.30pm.

He is one of the remaining few owners of the Mama shop that has been around ever since Singapore’s inception. For many of the older Singaporeans, Mama shops bring nothing more than fond childhood reminiscence that has a special place in each of our hearts. You would be spoilt for choices with the variation of snacks and toys – there is bound to be something for everyone.

Mr Poh used to be a farmer in Kampong Chai Chee back in the eighties, when Singapore was undergoing population resettlements. Back then, he had the option to trade in his farm for a shop licence. His family was poor so he would never have the money to bid for a shop, which was why he chose to start this small business of his in the void deck of the high-rise flat by HDB that was allocated by the government.

He had regular customers coming from all ages buying a bunch of daily necessities and miscellaneous things from him in the past. Nowadays, he only gets business mostly from the older crowd living nearby who wants to grab a thing or two.

The stark difference from then and now was what led numerous shops similar to Mr Poh’s get forced to closure. He is well aware of the decreasing amount of Mama shops in Singapore. When asked why he wasn’t doing the same, he said: "I am struggling to keep this shop too. But I don't want to be cooped up facing the four walls every day, you see. I have received education of only up to Primary 3 level, and at this age, who would want to hire me?”

“Business may be getting worse, but it’s the only thing I can do. Moreover, this shop has been with me for decades, there are some sentimental values to it," he added.

Rental fees may have seen a hike over the years, but Mr Poh plans to continue with this business for as long as he could. His shop in Sims Drive is only 1 out of the 3 that he owns. His elder son operates one of the shops in Aljunied Crescent, and his third son operates the other one in Woodlands.

His sons are continuing with the Mama shop business because they have learnt the skills and foundation of operating a shop after the many years of helping Mr Poh tend to his. Business used to be a brisk in the past for them, but now they only earn enough to get by.

"I would of course love to enjoy my remaining years. But my children can't even provide for themselves, what more for me? All I can depend on now is only this shop."

Should Singapore lose this heritage for the sake of progress?

2 comments

  1. I was writing the review about The Provision Shop and decided to google mama shop. Sure brought me back lots of fond childhood memories while reading your post. Nice blog you have there!

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    1. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it! :)

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