Dakota Crescent Provision Shop

The provision shop at Dakota Crescent is manned by an old couple, toiling from dawn to dusk and serving the quiet estate well for more than 50 years.

Tucked in the corner of block 12, the provision shop’s antique signboard catches the eye easily. The rusty spring-loaded metal gates are also remnants of the past.

A variety of biscuits are sold in separate metal containers, while drinks, syrups, eggs, instant noodles, onions and potatoes are displayed in their respective shelves and baskets. Other goods are packed neatly in the old shop with limited space. To advance with time, the provision shop also sells ice-cream in a chiller nowadays.

Like the mama shops, old traditional provision shops face the challenge from minimarts and convenience stores. The number has dropped from 1,200 in the seventies to less than 200 islandwide now. Many younger generations have little desire to continue this struggling business which their forefathers had guarded religiously in the past decades.

In September 2011, National Heritage Board (NHB) included provision shops as part of the Singapore Memory Project, in an effort to record down this history that plays an important role in our local culture.

The picture above shows a typical provision shop in the eighties, displaying a large variety of dried food at the front of its shop. The shopowner would use a large milo can attached to the ceiling to deposit his daily income.

The Singapore Provision Shop Friendly Association (新加坡杂货店联谊会) is part of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI), representing the interest of the provision shops in Singapore.

The estate of Dakota Crescent, located off Old Airport Road, is a peaceful neighbourhood consists of 14 white blocks of flats of not more than 10 storeys tall.

Dakota was more lively when the nearby Kallang Airport was in operation from 1937 to 1955. The name itself was named after American transport aircraft Dakota DC-3, which was massively produced during the World War II and a common plane to land at Kallang Airport. Another variation of the origin of the name is to commemorate the air disaster on 29 Jun 1946, when one of the Royal Air Force’s Dakota aircraft crashed at the Kallang Airport in a thunderstorm. All passengers on board were perished.

Published: 08 September 2011

Updated: 25 October 2012

60 Responses to Dakota Crescent Provision Shop

  1. Ho Wei Siong says:

    Indeed this is a forgotten place! I used to cycle around when I was young and it has been years since I been to this place though staying a few blocks away at Cassia Crescent. I believe it is the rare few remaining 2-storey housing in Singapore!

    • Hakozaki says:

      This shop is not ‘old’ enough, expecially the shelving and layout, to be crowned a ‘nostalgia provision shop’. there are many older looking shops with old wooden shelves in old shophouses scattered all over in the old streets in Singapore.

  2. Hi, I was wondering what happened to the people in Block 48 No 204a Dakota crescent, i use to know Some of the Teo family and was wondering where they are.They were Robert Teo and Nancy Teo and their Father worked in a Electrical shop i think. They use to Know me as JAMES. Any information would be great. This would have been in 1966 to 1976.
    Many thanks

    • Any readers who happen to know this.. please help ;)

    • Danny Chua says:

      My family staying there at Block 46, 220 grd floor of the then 3-storey flat at Dakota Crescentard 1965 till 1970 during the cufew period. My family was known there as “Ten children” n remember Blk 48 gd floor ,there stay a family selling satay business and a fireman staying in Blk 46 grd floor corner.

  3. YK says:

    This blog is amazing; thank you so much for your effort.

  4. Ben says:

    Actually there’re also a few places like this in places like Tanglin Halt and Tiong Bahru.

  5. Tim says:

    I believe this shop was use as a location shot for one of the children’s program in 2007 or 2008. Can’t recall the name of that program but think it was aired on Sundays around 10am or so. I wonder if such blocks may be selected for en-bloc in the future.

  6. Fareed Fiasco says:

    The shop is just opp my late grandma flat.. unfortunately my grandma died in a fire in her Dakota Cres flat. miss her,miss dakota,miss the shop..used to buy ciggies there every year on my Hari Raya visit to My Grandma place..

  7. Basic says:

    I remember there was a traffic circular near Kallang area where there were big neon lights billboards. Any idea what is the exact location?

    • Hakozaki says:

      Think the circus was at the exit of Nicoll Highway to Mountbatten Road and Guillemard Road. The neon billboard showed Knife Brand cooking oil, Labour Brand (a man wielding a hammer) bar soap, etc. .

    • Old Resident of DC says:

      U r right. the junction of Mountbatten Rd / Old Airport Rd / Kallang Park entrance was formerly a circle. The lighted neon signs are at the walls of Blk 2 & Blk 4. The displays were the watches brand “BULOVA & Accutron”. It was removed around mid-60s I think.

  8. D Dearb says:

    There are very few things on the internet that can bring so much nostalgia. Especially local websites. This is one of the few. Well done!

    Ex president S R Nathan talks about our lack of established identity as a nation. I think he has not yet seen your blog. I reckon this is a great starting point.

  9. erwinrommel says:

    I just chanced upon this blog today and I am amazed! I actually took a few photos of this unique shop, and I believe there’s actually a row of flats on the second floor. It’s a very simple and rustic place. Even the pavement and walkway along the canal looks so retro too! Shall bookmark this site and hopefully share some other amazing places with you too.

  10. vincent says:

    does anyone if this place still around? especially the provision shop. is it still in operation?
    email me vincent.egh@gmail.com many thanks

  11. Wayne Ho says:

    I grew up in Block 2 dakota Close.Grandparents are still staying there:)
    They were the first few families that move in during the 50s.

    This Tian Kee provision store sure brings back memories. During my Kindergarden days. My Kindergarden is at the other end, along Dakota Crescent. The place is now demolished. Now, Dakota ressidences (condo) is now sittting on the Kindergarden site. The 2 storey building where the Kindergarden is share the same design as this provision shop.

    Every morning My Aunt will fetch me to school, and this provision shop is the standard checkpoint. My Aunt will stop by and buy me sweets, titbits or soft drinks (the era of glass bottles and packets of ice.)

    And of course not to mention the daughter of the provision shop. She was my kindergarden classmate.

    Haven’t seen her and her family for a very long time. From my memories, they used to say at the 4 story flats along Dakota Crescent(1979). In 1990s, Did saw their family visited a clinic in Tampines 800+ Clinic.

    That’s about it. Still go back to grandparents’ place for family tree celebration twice a year.

    I do hope the place will stay as it is for the next decade.

    • Suzanne chan says:

      Hello Wayne,

      I used to stay in Block 2 as a child on the 5/F till the 80s…do I happen to know you? My parents were also one of the earliest residents there. I have this childhood family friend, Ho Wee Soon and he stayed on the 4/F. His family eventually moved to Eunos. Chan.sue8@gmail.com , sue chan

      • Wayne Ho says:

        I stay on the 6th Floor. My Grandfather was the electrical repair man of the area. people will usually bring their electronic and electrical stuff for my Grandfather to repair. And also the standard practise. My Neighbours will come over and play majong (our place was one of the standard location). This other neighbour majong place is 4th and 5th floor also.

        There’s another Ho family I know of was on the 5th floor corner. Facing the tanjong rhu side. Think they move out already.

  12. ongkoh says:

    oh yes…nostalgia at dakota crescent. the rest of the vicinity around it has been erased in the name of progress – jalan satu/dua cassia crescent etc as well as nearby kallang park. i stayed in old airport road from the late 60s to the late 80s and i used to play and cycle around dakota crescent as well as visit friends/relatives – the good old days.
    but with the mrt station there, i think it is a matter of time again…haiz – when places like these are available only on post cards or a commemorative plaque…pity right?

  13. Peter Dunlop author "Street names of Singapore" says:

    I believe that the traffic roundabout was called Guillemard Circus where Guillemard road met the Nicoll Highway and Mountbatten road. I don”t think that there was a Mountbatten Circus because that was where the traffic lights were to stop traffic when planes were landing. Kallang was originally a circular grass airfield which allowed planes to always land and take off into the wind. The seaplanes landed on Kallang Basin. After the war the runway was made/extended so the traffic lights were a compromise to allow traffic to the east coast and also the planes

  14. rextee says:

    Dakota Crescent the place that i liked most especially at block 18 over looking the geylang river…gee i missed that place so much…

  15. Fong KM says:

    Thank you for the memory, I was born and brought up in Dakota Crescent, block 28. I am in my 50s now. I remember the shop very well, we used to buy our groceries from this shop. We could buy on credit with transactions recorded on a small 555 book. My dad would then settle the bills at the end of the month. I miss the place very much, I do return to the place with my children sometimes and show them what my childhood place was like.

  16. Here’s a good article of an old provision shop at Joo Chiat which is closing for good at the end of September 2012….

    http://joochiattoday.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/old-provision-shop/

  17. Yesterday no more… one of the provision shops at Pulau Tekong (c. 1979) before the island was converted into a military base

  18. Fiza says:

    Am sure my in laws family remember this place. Its been their childhood stay thre. My mom in laws stay at Cassia Crescent too.

  19. Lee says:

    Both Hakozaki and Old Resident of DC are right. There are actually 2 traffic circus. Guillemard/Nicoll Highway and Old Airport Rd/Mountbatten Rd. The Knife Brand etc.. are at Guillemard. These are big metal billboard type. The ones at Old Airport Rd are mounted on the DC flat’s wall. They uses neon lights. Bulova, Titoni and KDK are some of the brands featured at various period of time. The flats around the area were completed in around 1959. My family was amongst the first residents.

    • Ku Puay Kee Tioh says:

      It’s now end Mar 2014 and yet today is the first time I have stumbled upon these lovely old memories (when searching the internet for Ong Toh’s signature tune – a really mesmerising story teller he was), even though they were shared some two yrs back.

      I was another Kallang Airportian. Used to school at Kallang Government Chinese Primary School, behind where Mountbatten Square, which used to be my school field, now sits.

      Yes, I can attest to the fact that there were two circuses along Mountbatten Rd there. The traffic movement around which Mountbatten Road, Old Airport Road and Kallang Park revolved was near Blk 2 Dakota Cres. There, one famous old brand that used to have a neon billboard, which made the place so distinctly unforgettable, was Lam Soon, whereas probably the most memorable neon billboard to have fronted Guillemard Circus was the Mido clock.

      If my memory serves me correctly, the circus at Blk 2 Dakota Cres was converted into a signalised junction ahead of the one at Guillemard Circus, which was first replaced by two signalised junctions before being re-aligned into one.

      One of the uniquely quaint aspects of a lot of the old blocks of flats at Kallang Airport, including those which are still standing on Dakota Cres today, must have been their red-brick facades. Sadly, and inexplicably to me, coats of paint of different colours have since erased this special antiquity into permanent memory. I am a little surprised that this point has not been re-lived in the above wonderful posts. Hope some of you may still have some colour photos to share with the rest of us.

  20. Lee says:

    Note also at the time these houses were built by SIT, the houses on one side of Old Airport Road all have odd block numbers (houses along Jln Satu, Dua, Tiga, etc..) while the houses on the opposite side of road have even block numbers (houses along Dakota Crescent side). Most of the odd number blocks have been demolished, leaving only some shop houses around the market and the 10 storey blocks. The even number blocks are more lucky, most of them are still around.

  21. David James says:

    LEE, I knew a family who lived in Block 48 No204A called TEO can only remember Brother and sisters names Robert and Nancy but there were quite a few more. The Father worked in a Electical shop that sold radios etc. I think that Block has been demolished but would like some confirmation and if so where they were rehoused too. Many Thanks

    • Danny Chua says:

      We staying at Blk 46. Remebering playing outside when the “Red Car” Police Task Force came and shout at us thro th loud haier that its curfew time n we should be indoor. It was the racial riot period.. Remeber too that during hot night, we just sleep in the open outside with those canva foldable bed.

  22. Lee says:

    Sorry David James, I don’t know them. I stayed at Jln Lima, opposite Dakota Crescent.

  23. David James says:

    Hi lee, Ok many thanks anyhow

  24. Ben says:

    Yes. I remember all these… I live here in the 1950s – those 3-storey Singapore Improvement Trust Flats facing the Geylang River. The site is occupied by Waterbank at Dakota condominium (now under construction).

    Strange enough, or, to be honest, it is all planned – I moved back to live here after some fifty years. Everything is so familiar. I know exactly how to move around, the best paths to run, the best foods around, etc. I can tell you, it is fun!

    Tian Kee (天记), of course I remember. Now the shop has become a prominent icon of this area. We used to be one of their customers. Tian Kee worker would come in a bicycle to “take order” and record it in a tiny note book. They gave credit of our purchases for one month. At the month end, the worker would come to collect payment based on his record. We all trusted each other and there is hardly any dispute. Before CNY, they would give a wooden case of Green Spot bottled drinks as a goodwill gesture for our whole year’s support.

    The pillar under the staircase with a squared platform is also very special. We kids liked to climb up and sit there.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Danny Chua says:

      The 3-storey flats were demolished n we were relocated to Circuit Road. During Chinese New Year, we used to fired “rocket” at the 12-storey (I think its 12 or 10 storey) opposite from blk 46 which facing Old Airport road n with Dakota Crescent as side road. Hawkers in trisha (the front type) which go round the pavement around these 3-strey flat to hawk their food.

  25. Tienyin Lo says:

    Hi, I wonder if you know whether Sungei Road was ever known for its row of bird shops? I guess it must be during the early 1960s? I remember my dad used to take me there to look at the birds and occasionally to buy a budgie or two. I am not sure whether it was the famous Sungei Road, but I vaguely remember the road being next to a canal and it was full of bird sounds because of the many bird shops there. My dad called it “Bird Street” but I think this could be just a name he coined himself. Love your blog, btw!

  26. Erwin says:

    Grew up just a couple of blocks away. Went back a year ago to show my gf this exact shop. Never thought anyone else would find this place interesting enought to chronicle, but it has a special place in my memories. Thanks for this!

  27. Passed by Dakota Crescent recently and decided to snap more photos of this little peaceful neighbourhood



    No bustling crowds, unlike other estates


    New condos have been popping up around Dakota

    Beautiful facade


    The vintage lift and its buttons

    The nostalgic dove playground

    Cozy little corner

    Hope this old peaceful estate will not be disturbed by SERS or any sort of redevelopment plans

    • YJ says:

      Hello, I stumbled upon your website and like it very much. I moved into the neighbourhood opposite Dakota Crescent in 2011. Understand this area is hot among property developers and I hear from my neighbour that this place will potentially be going under SERS. I am not sure how true it is, but perhaps any readers’ whose families stay here can shed some light.

    • Resident of DC says:

      Hi, REMEMBER SINGAPORE. Thanks for sharing these photos of Dakota Cresc flats. I stayed in Blk 26 (your 3rd photo – the last units at Level 2). We moved-in in mid-1958. Most of the flats on the opposite of Old Airport Rd were still under construction. There was no bus service during the 1st years. Most of the residents walked to Mountbatten Rd to take a bus to schools (STC 20) or to work. Later STC 20B plied into Old Airport Rd but made a U-turn at the junction of Jalan Satu. At that time, there was no road after this junction. The road (to Dunman Rd) was constructed much later.

      I am quite disappointed to see the Flats are now painted white over the natural colour of the red bricks that is quite unique to this Kallang Estate (to me considered almost iconic). The white walls now we see in every Blocks look very “dead” to me.

      Hope the Estate’s remaining Flats will last a few more years of the next generation to see their where their grand parents were brought up. Rgds.

  28. Nicky says:

    I nearly cried when I saw these photos. Used to live at blk 34. Everyone was so poor then. Our flat was exactly like Tian Kee’s. Moved to Tampines in 1993. My neighbour in blk 38 drowned in the river. I still remember his mum inconsolable at the water edge. He was called Tua Tau.

  29. Come end of this month, the old provision shop will be pulling down its shutters for the last time :(

    http://wanbao.omy.sg/local/story20131006-13545

    在加冷经营了54年,散发浓浓古早味的“天记”老杂货店,月底结束生意。杂货店外印有“天记公司”四字的标志性蓝色招牌,已被神秘人买下。

    • Shutters for 54-year-old provision shop
      84-year-old owner of Tian Kee in Dakota Crescent calls it a day

      The Straits Times
      Published on Oct 19, 2013

      FOR the past 54 years, Tian Kee provision shop at Block 12 Dakota Crescent has been a constant presence in the neighbourhood.

      Kids bought tidbits, thirsty joggers stopped for cold drinks and residents purchased essentials such as oil and bread. But like many other traditional provision shops, Tian Kee, one of the oldest of its kind in Singapore, has shut its doors.

      “I’m old and it is time to retire,” said 84-year-old shop owner Lim Tian Han, who wound up his business this week. “It’s time to take a step back and enjoy life.”

      Business at the provision shop, where huge biscuit tins and rusty shelves of essentials adorned the storefront, fell after a supermarket opened across the street “a few years ago”, said Mr Lim, who ran the business with his 76-year-old wife.

      Rising rents and fewer residents in Dakota, a quiet neighbourhood of mostly rental flats opposite the Old Airport Road hawker centre, also made it hard to cope.

      “Supermarkets have so much to offer, and we have only a limited amount of goods, we simply can’t compete,” he said.

      The Singapore Provision Shop Friendly Association has fewer than 200 members, down from the 1,262 members it had in the seventies, according to statistics from the National Heritage Board.

      Yet, for Mr Lim who left Muar in 1958 to come to Singapore, his humble shop enabled him to raise four children. “It’s more than I can ask for,” he said. In the next few days, the iconic blue sign bearing Tian Kee’s name will be taken down from its shopfront. A heritage buff has bought it, said Mr Lim, declining to reveal the price, or the identity of the buyer.

      MP for Dakota Crescent Lim Biow Chuan said that Tian Kee’s Mr Lim had approached him for help when the Housing Board increased shop rentals some time ago. He appealed to the board on Mr Lim’s behalf and managed to cap the increase, allowing it to be staggered over three years. The provision shop, located beside two traditional Chinese medicine clinics, has been a landmark in Dakota Crescent and residents “will miss its presence”, said the MP.

      “Mr Lim always has time to chat,” said customer service officer Jessica Tan, 31, a resident who frequented Tian Kee. “You don’t get that at supermarkets these days, it’s just buy and go.”

      Added 58-year-old retiree Choo Ming Yi, another Tian Kee regular: “I’ll miss my regular chats with Mr Lim when I buy things from him. This neighbourhood wouldn’t be the same without Tian Kee.”

  30. Wayne says:

    As the above wanbao article requires paid subscription, could someone who can access it please post it or email it to me together with all the photos.

  31. A last look at Tian Kee before its signboard is removed


    The other two shops at the block (traditional Chinese medicine) are still around though

  32. samantha says:

    i miss dakota crescent, such a lovely place. used to live at blk 60 and i loved the long corridor that spans all the way to another side of blk 60. such a pity that econ minimart and the coffee shop closed down, as well as the other shop houses. there used to be a sand playground just outside the neighbourhood police post and an indoor playground at the void deck of a block (can’t recall). i rmb that among those shophouses the only one i was able to recall was a shop that sells only eggs. my mum and i will always buy eggs from there.

  33. eVileenen says:

    wow samantha, those were the same memories that i had of that place too! the coffeeshop that sells vegetarian noodle, mixed vegetable rice and fishball noodles…all nice food. the egg stall, cake shop and also econ minimart! then there was a clinic too..near blk 60 used to be a shop that prints cardboard or something like that too!

    • Boon Chun says:

      Clinic is still here at Jalan Tiga :)
      Egg shop owner rented out Jalan Tiga unit. Now also a clinic.
      Econ minimart owner rented out to 7-11 now.

  34. Sean says:

    The people who used to live at the current Dakota residences site shift to the current flats at jalan tiga. Just pop by the void deck at blk45 and You will find familiar faces.

  35. Folks, the bad news have been confirmed :(

    Dakota Crescent set for redevelopment, residents to leave by end-2016

    ChannelNewsAsia
    24 Jul 2014

    SINGAPORE: On Wednesday (July 23) evening, the Housing Development Board (HDB) issued notices stating that 17 blocks in Dakota Crescent, one of Singapore’s oldest neighbourhoods, have been earmarked for redevelopment. About 400 households there will have to vacate their homes by end-2016. Affected flat types range from one- to three-room units.

    The area is planned for future residential development, according to HDB, and the date for development has not been confirmed.This estate was formed in 1958.

    Two-thirds of the households have one or more elderly member who is at least 60 years old. The majority of the residents are living in rentals flats, paying between $60 and $75 a month. HDB says those who wish to continue renting will be given priority in the rental of flats in other parts of Singapore, subject to availability. Those who wish to remain in the area can opt for new or rental flats at nearby Cassia Crescent, which will be completed by the third quarter of 2016.

    HDB said the tenancy agreement for these new rental flats will be for two years. For Dakota residents, rental flats in Cassia Crescent will start from $26 a month for a one-room flat and $59 for a two-room unit. For those who choose to buy a flat, first-timer households and singles may be granted a Central Provident Fund (CPF) relocation grant of $15,000 (for families and joint singles) or $7,500 (for singles), if eligible. Tenants who have already booked new flats will be allocated temporary rental flats, if their new flats are not ready before their move-out date. HDB says eligible tenants will also be given a removal allowance of S$1,000.

    Dakota residents had mixed views about the estate’s demise. “I have been here for 51 years,” said Rahmat Bee. “It’s convenient to get around from here and it’s a great neighbourhood.”

    Meanwhile, a newcomer to the area was surprised by the notice, having only opened his cafe a month ago. “It’s really a pity because a lot of customers and neighbours love this place,” said Vincent Foo, co-owner of Tian Kee & Co. “We will stay until the end of December 2016 and at the end of it, we’ll throw a party for all the customers and the residents here – past and present.”

    In an emailed statement to Channel NewsAsia, Member of Parliament for Mountbatten Lim Biow Chuan said residents have been anticipating the move as they are aware of the old and hard-to-maintain nature of the buildings in the estate. “In fact when I did a house visit six weeks ago, some of them asked when they would be moving,” he said.

    Asked if such estates with rich history should be conserved like Tiong Bahru, Mr Lim said while he personally felt the estate is “very quaint” and “unique”, it is conservation experts who should decide this.

    “There should be some meritorious criteria to consider before deciding whether to conserve the place,” he said. “The state would have to strike a balance between conserving the place versus the need to provide more housing options to the residents in a prime area which is next to a MRT station.”

  36. eVileen says:

    this is just so upsetting =(

  37. Silas Khua says:

    I am a professional photographer looking to document Dakota Crescent for memories sake before it is redeveloped. If anyone could be so kind to put me in contact with some of the families still staying there, I would be very delighted! Please contact me at silaskhua@gmail.com. Some of my work can be found at https://www.facebook.com/pages/TILT-Photography/252211884909935?ref=br_tf

    Thank you!

  38. Boon Chun says:

    I stayed block 68 #06-612. One of the 3 14-stories 3-room flat from 1980 till 2003. Now I stay opposite Dakota Crescent in Jalan Tiga estate block 39. I wished I had taken more pictures of Dakota Crescent. During my time, Mountbatten Primary School, which I studied there, was just infront of our block. My mother would spot-check me if I was running around the school field after school.

    Now, I will go to block 12 to have a cup of joe whenever I am free at Tiankee

  39. Dennis Gordon says:

    Somewhere near Dakota estate about 60 years back, a plane had crashed somewhere near here. Most of the dead were buried at the Christina Bidadari Cemetery.

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