Most wet market stall holders have no plans to hand over business to children

At Toa Payoh West Market and Food Centre, the narrow aisles are packed with stalls selling fresh meat, seafood, joss sticks, jade bangles and ornamental fish.

Many stallholders are well into their 60s and 70s, and have been in the same trade most of their lives.

Nearly all those that The Sunday Times spoke to said they have no plans to hand over the business to their children. When they retire, they will simply close shop.

"That happened to the couple who were next door - they worked until they were in their 80s," said Madam Tay Geok Hua, 68, who sells dried foods, preserved vegetables and fresh beancurd at Huat Kueh, Kuay Teow Mee. "They gave up the stall because there was no one to take over from them."

This is amid a falling number of hawkers licensed under the National Environment Agency who sell sundries and market produce in the past decade. The figure was 8,761 in 2006 but it dropped 9.8 per cent to 7,901 last year.

Madam Tay, who has run the stall with her husband for around 40 years, said she plans to retire in a couple of years herself. After all, she said, her children are already grown up and have jobs of their own. "I get up at 1am to prepare for the next day - to peel the beansprouts and so on," she said in Mandarin. "I sleep in the afternoon and when I get up, I start all over again. It's not an easy life."

The same goes for Madam Teo Swee, who rents a poultry stall that she started 40 years ago to support her four children after her husband died. For her, the stall represents a lifetime's worth of work.

"I would want to pass it on to my children, but they wouldn't want to work here," she said.

Linette Lai