Katong News Agency to close after 67 years; two-storey shophouse sold for $4.2m

Katong News Agency, owned by Mr Abdul Samad, was once popular with parents and students for its extensive range of school books, novels, magazines and stationery. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE – Katong News Agency, which opened in 1955, is shutting down after 67 years in business.

The 1,386 sq ft, two-storey shophouse was sold for $4.2 million, or at $3,029 per sq ft (psf), in December.

The last day of business will be Aug 31, said owner Mr Abdul Samad, 66.

People familiar with Tanjong Katong will remember how the shop on 350 Tanjong Katong Road was once popular with parents and students for its extensive range of school textbooks, assessment books, novels, magazines and stationery.

During the December school holidays, Katong News Agency would be bustling with parents snapping up textbooks and stationery for their children for the new school term.

Often, the shop stayed open till late into the night, sometimes closing at midnight, recalled Mr Samad.

His father, Mr Abdul Salam, came from India and started Katong News Agency.

In the beginning, it was a general provision shop selling groceries, cosmetics and books.

In the 1960s, when Tanjong Katong Girls’ School, which is located directly opposite the shop, started holding classes in the evenings, Mr Salam saw the opportunity to sell textbooks to those attending the night classes, said Mr Samad.

Gradually, Mr Salam switched to selling books to cater to students in nearby schools.

Mr Samad said his father was paying rent of $100 a month until 1972, when he bought over the freehold unit for under $300,000.

The iconic shop had catered to generations of students from nearby schools, including Tanjong Katong Girls’ School, Tanjong Katong Technical School, Dunman High School and Chung Cheng High School (Main), in the 1960s to 1990s.

Business plunged when three of the schools moved out of Tanjong Katong Road in the late 1990s.

Katong News Agency’s last day of business will be Aug 31, said Mr Abdul Samad. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

In 2001, Katong News Agency stopped selling textbooks and was converted into a minimart selling household items, snacks, stationery and toys. By then, Mr Salam had already left the business in the care of his three children.

“During the good times, parents who lived in other parts of Singapore would also travel here to get the assessment books for their children,” recalled Mr Samad, who started running the store in 2006.

“I am very sad to retire. I have been running the store seven days a week since I took over the business. My customers are all very nice. Some of them who had moved out of the area would still return to visit the shop,” he added.

Ms Pearl Lee, 33, a content manager, said: “It was the go-to place to while away time while waiting for the bus home. I would always end up buying something for fun – pens, sweets, chips, ice cream…

“I also remember flipping through magazines and The New Paper, and I vaguely remember being told off once or twice for reading without buying.”

“I still go to that area these days for food, and so much has changed – the eateries and shops of my teenage years have almost all disappeared.

“It is sad to hear about KNA’s (Katong News Agency) closure, but I can’t say I’m surprised. I will miss its signature yellow signboard,” added Ms Lee, who studied at Chung Cheng High School (Main) from 2001 to 2004.

Mr Abdul Samad in his shop, Katong News Agency. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Madam Ong Bee Lee, 50, who has been working in a clinic in Tanjong Katong for more then 20 years, said Katong News Agency has been the one-stop shop for her and her colleagues.

“I used to buy assessment books and stationery from the shop for all my four children. There’s also a photocopying service.”

“Today, many foreign domestic helpers go there to top up their phone cards. It’s a one-stop shop for people living in the area,” she added.

Madam Marmah Hjsaim, 66, who has been working at the shop since 1975, said: “I have spent my whole life at the shop. I feel like I am part of the family. Here, I learnt how to do business from my boss.

“I don’t know what I will do after the shop closes. I will also have to retire in August.”

In 2001, the shop stopped selling textbooks and was converted into a minimart selling toys, as well as household items, snacks and stationery. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

With more people shopping online, it is more challenging to keep his business running, said Mr Samad.

Three years ago, in 2019, Mr Samad, who has four children in their 30s, decided to put up the unit for sale.

Data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority showed two caveats lodged for shophouses in Tanjong Katong Road that year, with both units transacting at about $1,500 psf.

Mr Samad said he had received a few offers, but none of them met his asking price of about $3,000 psf.

Based on the caveats lodged since 1995, Katong News Agency is one of three shophouse units sold above $3,000 psf in Tanjong Katong Road.

The certificate of registration, marked Feb 12, 1955, for the Katong News Agency. The shop was sold for $4.2 million in December 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

According to ERA Research and Consultancy, there have been 92 caveats lodged for shophouse transactions islandwide since January, with a total transacted value of about $783 million.

The number of shophouse transactions more than doubled from 123 in 2019 to 254 transactions last year.

Mr Nicholas Mak, ERA Realty’s head of research and consultancy, said data shows that demand and interest in shophouses and other types of non-residential properties increased after the introduction of each round of cooling measures.

The value of a shophouse is often determined by its location, allowable type of use, potential for expansion of floor area, ease of car parking and reputation of the location, said Mr Mak.

Currently, buyers of commercial shophouses do not have to pay additional buyer’s stamp duty. Coupled with limited supply, many investors see shophouses as a good form of alternative investment, said Mr Mak.

However, interested buyers may be hindered by a lack of knowledge or funds as the price quantum for shophouses is usually higher than that of a condo unit.

“It is easier to buy a condo unit than to buy a shophouse. The residential property market is much bigger and more liquid than the shophouse market, with more buyers, sellers and tenants,” said Mr Mak.

“Source: [Katong News Agency to close after 67 years; two-storey shophouse sold for $4.2m] © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction”

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