S'pore's last street barber retires aged 77, tent at Jalan Sultan torn down

End of an era.

Ashley Tan | February 08, 2022, 01:39 PM

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Singapore's last street barber is no more.

Tan Boon Kee decided to retire at the age of 77, after nearly 30 years of giving haircuts out of a tent set up discretely in an alley along Aliwal Street.

Time to retire

One Kenny Ng told Mothership that Tan shuttered his operations right before the Chinese New Year holiday, on Jan. 31.

Ng works at a ribbon and printing business, Sin Hin Chuan Kee, which is located in the yellow shophouse adjoining the alley where Tan is located.

He shared that he has daily chats with Tan, and has also had his hair cut by the elderly man before.

"Age has caught up with him," Ng said of Tan, and the former revealed that the barber said he just wanted to retire.

He had already made plans to do so by the middle of January, and informed Ng about his decision.

Said Ng of the development: "I'm sad yet happy. Happy that he can retire and shake leg now."

On Feb. 8, the shanty structure which Tan operated his tiny business out of was torn down.

Photo courtesy of Kenny Ng

Photo courtesy of Kenny Ng

Photo courtesy of Kenny Ng

Last of the barbers

Over the years, Tan has kept his haircuts affordable — each customer pays S$6 for a haircut, shave, and a trim of eyebrows and nose hair.

Tan's spartan set-up was pragmatic and functional, with only a single barber chair and mirror for one customer at a time.

When Mothership interviewed Tan in 2020, the barber shared that he had no plans to retire anytime soon, and "will just work as much as I can, for as long as I can".

Tan has two sons, both of whom have no intention of taking over the business.

His retirement thus marks the end of an era of street barbers, a trade that first originated in Singapore in the 1950s.

Read our previous interview with Tan here

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Top photo courtesy of Kenny Ng and by Ashley Tan