When I was much younger, my older brother and I used to help out at my late grandfather’s bookstore on 134 Arab Street during school holidays. I would get items from the shelves for customers and eventually graduated to wrapping books and manning the cash register. Often I would stare enviously at the expensive stationery laid out in the displays (always wanted that shiny sleek metal mechanical pencil), but I felt fortunate to be allowed to peruse the books, magazines and comics on the shelves during slower days. I remember going out the back door during lunchtimes to nearby restaurants to get delicious nasi padang (from Warung Pariaman) or murtabak (from Victory Restaurant), and eating it on the large antique desk in the back room with my brother while our uncles minded the shop. We were welcome to help ourselves to glass-bottled drinks like Green Spot, Kickapoo or Yeo’s Soya Bean from the tiny fridge in the corner.
The area was pretty bustling then, with tourists popping in, regular passers-by and delivery vehicles stopping along the road to hastily unload stuff before driving off. The bookstore would only be closed on Sundays and for a couple of hours temporarily on Fridays when we went for congregational prayers at Masjid Sultan a stone’s throw away.
Unfortunately, the bookstore had to close (the only other outlet is located at Joo Chiat Complex) but by then my father had bought over the premises and was running a marriage counselling and family services business. Upon his passing in 2005, his wife and children took ownership of the shophouse, and his daughter took over the running of the business. I hadn’t often dropped by the shop, but whenever I do it brings back fond memories: the tiny back alley, the sturdy folding wooden front doors, the original sets of lettering mounted on the shop front, the antique wooden staircase at the back of the shop. We were honoured and proud to be holding on to our grandfather and father’s legacies.
But now the place is no longer ours. It was a very difficult decision to make, with many alternatives raised and considered, but in the end and with heavy hearts we all felt it was most prudent to sell it. The entire transaction took some months and involved a few parties, but overall I was glad the deal went through without a hitch. I am saddened to see it in someone else’s hands and have no idea what they will do with it, but I believe everything has it’s moment and time, nothing lasts forever and change is the only constant in life. I still have all those cherished memories to hold on to for as long as I can.
My late grandfather’s bookstore is still around and ably managed by my cousins, and my sister is in the midst of setting up our late father’s company at another location not too far away. I have come to accept that their time in the quaint little shophouse along Arab Street is now over. The legacies of these beloved pioneers continue elsewhere.