Tangs, founded in 1932 by Tang Choon Keng, is one of Singapore's oldest surviving departmental stores. It is also one of the earliest retail occupants in Orchard Road, Singapore's premier shopping district. Its flagship store with its distinctive green-tiled Chinese roof is a familiar landmark to shoppers and tourists.

Early history
Tangs' founder, Tang Choon Keng, came to Singapore from Swatow, China in 1923. He started out as an itinerant hawker, peddling embroidered linens to Western expatriates living in Tanglin, Holland Road, Bukit Timah and Katong. Tang built his trade on the philosophy of honesty, integrity and value for money. On these principles, his business began to grow. With the increased sales, Tang could no longer go from house to house to sell his goods. So he rented a shop space at 231 River Valley Road and set up his first shop called the House of Tang. His range of merchandise expanded to include Chinese arts and crafts, ornaments and souvenirs. The shop prospered and soon extended to the ground and second levels, as well as the two shop fronts beside it.

In 1940, the store moved across the street to a three-storey building that Tang had built on land acquired from six adjacent shops. Located at 241 River Valley Road, the building was named the C. K. Tang Building. It was later renamed the Gainurn Building after Tang's father, Tang Gan Urn. During the Occupation years, the Japanese soldiers had wanted to use the store as their dormitory. The idea was later abandoned when they found quarters elsewhere. Hence the shop came out of the episode relatively unscathed.

House of Tang at Orchard Road
After the war, Tang saw that the time was ripe for expansion. The chance came when the Manasseh family decided to sell their land at No. 2 and 4 Scotts Road. During that time, many Jewish families were returning to the newly formed Israeli state and were disposing their properties at low prices. So in 1958, Tang bought a 1,351 square metres piece of land at a cost of $3.45 per square foot, at 310 Orchard Road which he built the third House of Tang at a cost of $200,000. When Tang first acquired the land, many decried the inauspicious location because the site faced the Tai San Ting cemetery. Orchard Road was also an isolated and quiet neighbourhood then. However Tang recognised the potential of the location. Residents living in Tanglin and Holland Road, and Malaysians from Johor Baru, had to drive pass his store in order to get to the city centre. The new House of Tang had a distinctive architecture. Its green-tiled roof with upturned corners and red columnades were modeled after the Chinese pavilions and palaces which Tang saw during his visit to Beijing.

Renamed to C. K. Tang
In 1960-61, the House of Tang closed briefly due to a disagreement with the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers' Union. The dismissal of an employee had triggered a series of events which led to the staging of two strikes. The matter finally came to a close when the House of Tang went into voluntary liquidation. The store reopened the next year as C.K. Tang.

Tangs and Dynasty Hotel
In 1975, Tang decided to pull down the old building and to construct a 33-storey hotel and a shopping complex in its place. The new building retained the store's signature green-tiled Chinese roof. The new shopping complex (now known as Tangs) and Dynasty Hotel (later sold to Marriott and renamed to Marriott Hotel in 1995) were opened in 1982.

Besides being a shopping haven, Tangs was also known, at that time, for its policy of not opening on Sundays. Tang was a staunch Christian and had implemented the policy so his family and Christian employees could go to church. This practice ceased in July 1994.

Tangs - the Second Generation
In 1987, Tang retired and handed over the reins of the company to his son, Tang Wee Sung. Under the leadership of the younger Tang, the store transformed itself into a trendy and fashion-forward clothing and lifestyle retailer. A number of niche labels and concept spaces such as Tangs Studio, the Island Shop, and the Tangs Beauty Hall were launched. Tangs currently operates its flagship store at Tangs Plaza on Orchard Road, and outlets at Vivocity and the Pavilion shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Isabel Ong

Boo, K. (2000, September 4). Curio King C.K. Tang dies, aged 98The Straits Times. Retrieved on March 14, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

C. K. Tang Limited Group (2008, September 7). C K. Tang Limited Group annual report 2008. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from Singapore Exchange Ltd. Web site: http://www.ses.com.sg

Corfield, J. & Corfield, R. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of Singapore (p. 222). Singapore: Talisman Publications.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 COR -[HIS])

'Curio King' faces a strike threat at House of Tang. [Microfilm: NL 4147] (1960, August 24). The Straits Times, p. 5

House of Tangs to reopen again. [Microfilm: NL 12119] (1961, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 1

Khng, E. M. (1982, September 26). Big shift pays off. [Microfilm: NL 12712]. The Sunday Times, Sunday Plus, p. 8

Koh, T. & [et al.]. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia (p. 548). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN)

Lim, H. S. (Interviewer). (1982, December 1). Oral history interview with Tang Choon Keng (transcript of Cassette Recording No. 000197). Retrieved March 2, 2009, from National Archives of Singapore Web site http://www.a2o.com.sg

Seah, L. (2002, August 29). A taste of the new Tangs. The Straits Times. Retrieved January 10, 2009, from Factiva database.

Shi, X. (2000, July 21). Tangs revamps its lookThe Straits Times. Retrieved on March 14, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Siow, D. (1991, June 8). The money interview: A man of integrityThe Straits Times. Retrieved on March 14, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Tan, K. H. (1992). The House of Tang: Our 60th Anniversary 1932- 1992. Singapore: C.K. Tang.
(Call no.: RSING 338.761658871095957 TAN)

The Tang Dynasty [Microfilm: NL 12069]. (1982, May 22). The Straits Times, Section 2, pp. 1, 7.

Tangs goes big in M'sia with new flagship store. (2007, October 18). Business Times Singapore. Retrieved January 10, 2009, from Factiva database.

Tyers, R. K. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then and now (pp. 154, 167). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE)

The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Shopping malls--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Retail and wholesale
Business enterprises
Department stores--Singapore

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