“ Mini museums ” open in heritage shops in the Kampong Glam district

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SINGAPORE: Walking past a corner unit of Kampong Glam, visitors may smell a scent of modern perfumes, but they may not be aware that the perfume store – Jamal Kazura Aromatics – has been around for almost 90 years.

It was created in 1933 by Mohamed Hanifa Kazura, who had emigrated to Singapore from southern India.

He traveled all over the place in search of merchandise to fill his shop, which once sold books, gems, and perfumes.

He even traveled to the jungles of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to bring back precious agarwood, which produces a resin valued for its fragrance when heated.

To this day, agarwood is still one of the mainstays of the store.

The charcoal is ignited to heat the agarwood, which produces a resin valued for its fragrance when heated. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

Such stories come to life in a “mini museum” within the store, featuring artifacts and photographs from the company’s history.

It is one of seven stores in the historic Kampong Glam district that will offer such exhibits, as part of the National Heritage Board’s (NHB) Street Corner Heritage Galleries program, launched in the region on Thursday, April 22.

The program, a three-year pilot project, was first rolled out in March last year in the district of Balestier.

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It will be expanded to three other historic districts – Little India, Kreta Ayer and Chinatown, as well as Geylang Serai – by 2022.

The program is part of NHB’s broader efforts to foster a deeper appreciation of local heritage, as part of its Our SG heritage plan.

At Kampong Glam, the agency worked with heritage stores – all of which have at least three decades of history – to unearth lesser-known tales and interesting artifacts from their past to display.

Jamal Kazura Aromatics Store

Perfume bottles in the Jamal Kazura Aromatics store, founded in 1933. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

Visitors aren’t the only ones to have learned something new from the showcase.

Mr Samir Kazura, the director of the third generation of perfumery, said: “When I was going through this process … I had to dig into our old stuff and find out things about my late grandfather – that he had been to places we had never been known he had.

The 37-year-old added that his grandfather, who traveled on Soviet steamboats and jets, had been to many more destinations than he had.

Other items on display at the store include old notes on perfume recipes, straight out of the notebook of Mr. Samir’s father, Mr. Mohamed Jamal Kazura.

The display case also includes a stamp, dating back at least 60 years, that was used for an insect repellant that the store sold decades ago.

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Other participating businesses range from restaurants such as Sabar Menanti Nasi Padang, to stores that sell Muslim accessories such as VSS Varusai Mohamed & Sons.

At Sin Hin Chuan Kee, a family business, which provides sewing accessories, a display tells stories about the transformation of the business since its inception in 1965.

Haberdashery Sin Hin Chuan Kee Kampong Gelam

Sin Hin Chuan Kee is a family owned textiles and accessories store that has been in existence since 1965. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

Exterior of Sin Hin Chuan Kee

Members of the Ng family in front of their haberdashery store in Kampong Gelam, Sin Hin Chuan Kee, with a display showing items from their business history. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

A paper bag from the store’s early days shows its old address at 47 Clyde Street, as well as a four-digit postcode – now unknown in Singapore.

Other items include an abacus used by the store’s founder, Mr. Ng Koon Teng, who was an immigrant from Quanzhou, China.

It’s the same abacus her kids had to learn to use too, though her 58-year-old daughter Ms. Ng Geok Hong joked that she could never master it.

The display also features brands of sewing threads and zippers that Mr. Ng and his family sought out in the 1960s and 1970s. These have since become the cornerstones of their distribution business.

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Nearby, at the famous Bhai Sarbat tea stand, an exhibit tells how a migrant from India, known colloquially as Firuz, started the business on a bicycle rickshaw in the 1950s.

The store’s success is based on the popularity of pulled tea, tarik, and its ginger counterpart, sarabat.

Bhai Sarbat Kampong Gelam tea shop

Mr. Mohammad Asgar’s stall, Bhai Sarbat, is famous for its shredded teas, tarik and sarabat – the latter is flavored with ginger. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

Its current owner, Mohammad Asgar, bought the business three years ago and expanded the booth’s drink menu from 12 options to 120. He even donned his son as the next generation tea master.

READ: Bhai Sarbat – the story behind the famous Kampong Glam tea stand

Through this program, NHB hopes to involve traditional businesses in documenting and showcasing their heritage, said Mr. Alvin Tan, deputy general manager of policy and community at the council.

He added that he hopes to create “unexpected heritage encounters for the public,” as part of the ongoing efforts to make Kampong Glam more vibrant.

Mr Tan also said they wanted to integrate more businesses in the region.

In addition to funding and helping with the construction of the showcases, NHB will also work with traders to develop programs such as lectures, tours and workshops.

In addition, it will give these business owners the opportunity to participate in key events such as the Singapore Heritage Festival, NHB added in a press release.

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