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Holland Village – a ‘happening place’ with a kampung feel

Tears streamed down Mr Periathambi Senthilmurugan’s face as he drew down the shutters of his Thambi Magazine Store in Holland Village at 9pm on May 5.

Turning towards the media cameras and smartphones of onlookers, the 49-year-old placed his palms together in the form of a namaskar, signalling his appreciation.

Among the framed articles laid up on the outer racks, he reached for one with a picture of his late father Govindasamy Periathambi, kissed it as a mark of respect, and placed it back.

As he gently drew down the last shutter, the crowd of onlookers gave him a consolatory round of applause.

The sense of finality had set in, as Mr Senthilmurugan’s wife, daughter and other family members – some of them teary-eyed as well – exited the store.

With the closure, the curtains were drawn on yet another chapter of Holland Village, the history of which no one knows more than Mr Senthilmurugan, who has resided and worked in the area since he was a boy.

When asked about the neighbourhood where he grew, Mr Senthilmurugan, known as Sam to his regular customers and other vendors in the area, smiled as he reminisced.

Early retail outlets at Holland Village were started for the sole purpose of servicing the British soldiers and their families residing in the area. A tattoo parlour, bars and nightclubs, art and crafts shops and tailors who made army uniforms and apparel, dotted the shophouses at Holland Village.

Sam also recalled the open-air cinema that specialised in Chinese movies, which was popular among the local residents. The theatre was created by arranging rows of benches each rented for 50 cents per show. It closed in 1985.

He spoke of a playground on a hilltop where the new One Holland Village mall now stands, and cycling with friends around the area.

He listed the lengthy repertoire of shops and eateries in the area, including Fitzpatrick’s Supermarket (later replaced by Cold Storage), Fosters Steakhouse, and pubs such as Balmoral and Kingsford – outlets that gave the village a cosmopolitan feel, almost like a mini Orchard Road.

There was also the Kampong Holland Mosque that used to rely on donations from worshippers to build a prayer hall slightly bigger than a five-room flat. The mosque held its last Friday prayer in 2014.

Modernity has led to a spanking new mall (One Holland Village opened in December 2023) replete with newgen eateries serving Japanese and fusion cuisines, and shops centered around several courtyards – to give the place an open feel and atmosphere. 

Located a stone’s throw from Holland Village MRT station, the mall distinguishes itself as a pet-friendly locale, with water fountains and elevators dedicated to pets, as well as poop bag dispensers and “pet parking’ stations with leash hooks. Not to mention the more than 20 eateries and stores pets can actually enter.

“This place was so different from when I was growing up,” Sam told Tabla.

“It was a happening place that had a real kampung feel to it, and I miss the social part of everything. Back then, customers wouldn’t just pay and go, they would stay and chat for a while.

“There used to be handicraft stalls and vendors selling wallets and knick-knacks in the open spaces. I remember when the NEA officers came by, the vendors would all pack up and scatter.

“Now everyone’s gone for good – and I’m the last to go.”

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