Broadcast on Gold 90.5 FM, Vintage Show, 29 July 2018
The Market Street-Raffles Place area had about 200 Indian businesses and professional firms. These were spread out over the 4 main streets – Chulia, Market, Malacca, D’Almeida Street – all filled with old shop houses. Architecturally, the 3 streets looked like Chinatown.
Chulia Street was a center for Tamil Muslim businesses. It used to be called Kling street from the 1822 to 1922, when it was renamed as Chulia Street at the request of the Indian community. Chulia refers generally to Tamil Muslim businessmen in particular and the word comes from a corruption of the name for a Tamil Kingdom, Chola or Chulia kingdom. Businesses in shipchandling (supplying provisions to ships), stationery and textiles were there - like ASM Dawood Ship Chandlers, Ghulam Stationers, RM Allapitchay Maricar Moneychanger, etc. A couple of today’s famous names, listed company Second Chance and Mohamed Mustafa started out from this street (more on 12 Aug article).
Market Street was also known as Chetty Street and famous for its Chettiar bankers. There were 6 Chettiar Kittangi-shophouses with about 200 to 300 Chettiars bankers living there. For local entrepreneurs it was not easy to get loans from an established bank then. The Chettiars were almost the sole source of business loans then for a SME business. There were also Indian provision shops, barbers, goldsmiths, curry mills, banana leaf restaurants and even a Saree shop called Nalam Stores. There was also a shop house mosque at 16&18 market street (where UOB building is today), Masjid Maulana Mohamed Ali. Today this mosque is located underground below the UOB building. The name Market street comes from the Lau Pa Sat market which even today lies at the very end of Market street near the junction of Robinson Road. Earlier in the 1800s it used to be located near the where Republic Plaza is today.
Malacca StreetMalacca street was the center for Gujerati spice traders - like Jumabhoy, Nomanbhoy, Jitendra Kantilal, etc. There was always a strong smell of spices - nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon. There was a popular Paan (Indian Betel leave snack) shop, run out of a street cart owned by a Sikh at the corner with Market Street (see photo) and a Chinese coffee shop opposite, these places were popular for gossiping. The most famous person of the street was Lee Kuan Yew who had his first office of Lee & Lee law firm at 10A Malacca Street (where Republic Plaza is today). His first staff member was a Chettiar, S Ramasamy from a nearby Kittangi at 54 Market Street. Who then served him as his private secretary till the 1970s and also as the PAP MP for Cairnhill in 1960s.
Directly on the opposite side of the Malacca street junction with Market street was the junction with Telok Ayer street (today’s Golden Shoe building). In those days, Telok Ayer street used to run straight through Church street and intersect with Market street and the original Lau Pa Sat in the 1800s was located at this junction (today’s Republic Plaza).