Sungei Road’s 80-year-old ‘Thieves Market’ is finally closed – here’s a last look at the iconic Singaporean bazaar

The oldest and largest flea market in Singapore is set to close today (July 10) to make way for redevelopment plans.
Business Insider/ Joey Lee

For eight decades, it’s been the go-to place for bargain-hunters in Singapore looking to score a discarded or unwanted item for a song.

In fact, most of the stalls which set up there are haphazardly put together, with random items such as broken toys, second-hand electronics and outlandish clothes on display.

The area in Sungei Road also earned itself the name ‘Thieves Market’, as stolen items were reportedly sold there.

Plans were previously announced for market to make way for residential and commercial developments, with July 10 marked as the last day of operations for the flea market’s vendors.

But when the day finally came on Monday (July 10), the area hardly showed signs of an impending permanent closure.

Vendors were still seen hawking their usual goods, with bargain-hunters strolling by, eyes poised to strike at anything that caught their eye.

Here’s one last look at this iconic site before it’s consigned to the history books.

Located between Jalan Besar and Rochor Canal Road, Singapore’s oldest and largest flea market tells the story of a forgotten side of the country – one where people struggle to scrape a living in the midst of ever-growing modern skyscrapers.

One would have expected that on its last day, the flea market would only have a few vendors and bargain hunters milling about.

But that wasn’t the case when I went down around noon. The market’s different lanes were already crowded despite me dropping by before it officially opened an hour later.

As I walked through the narrow pathways flanked by weather-beaten vendors, talk of the impending site closure wafted through the warm, balmy air. Many also took the opportunity to reminisce of times gone by.

There were some young visitors who accompanied their parents for one last nostalgic look of the place, while others came to say goodbye to vendors they’ve forged friendships with.

It is Singapore’s last free hawking zone but it had already been reduced in size in 2011 to enable the construction of the Jalan Besar MRT station.

Because vendors did not need to pay rent, space allocated is on a first-come-first serve basis. This means that all vendors had to do was to bring a sheet of tarp or newspaper to display their goods.

The Straits Times

Historically, the ‘Thieves Market’ gained its notorious name because some goods sold there were reportedly acquired through illegitimate means – they were most likely stolen, smuggled or illegal.

The name was also a double entendre, because prices were so low that many purchased items were considered “a great steal”.

With a looming 7pm deadline to close for good, a few National Environment Agency (NEA) officers approached vendors, probably to remind them or address their concerns about the closure.

There were some signs that the end was near: A few stalls had tarps laid out on the ground, with little or nothing put up for sale.

The vendors looked like warriors guarding their posts till the very end.  

Over time, Thieves Market will join the likes of many other Singaporean icons like the National Theatre and Van Kleef Aquarium that have been torn down in the name of redevelopment.