Yaohan Singapore – Department store from the 70s-90s

It was December 2017 when Don Don Donki opened in Singapore for the first time, much to the joy of Singaporeans. Now let’s roll back the clock a little further: if you’re a youngin’ like myself, you might not have heard that the 70s had its own “Don Don Donki”. But ask your parents and they may affectionately recall a department store by the name of Yaohan.

What was Yaohan Singapore known for? 

yaohan singapore - plaza sing
Image credit: CapitaLand

Once upon a time, in the 70s, there was a $13 million shopping paradise that opened along the streets of Orchard Road, in the basement of Plaza Singapura. There were multiple department stores around back then but Yaohan was no run-off-the-mill variety. It was the biggest of its kind with a supermarket within.

You’d have been able to find everything from electronics to toys. There was freshly made ready-to-eat food, and produce both local and imported. Much like Don Don Donki, the opening was met with so much fanfare that everyone and their mom would visit. Records show that in a week, as many as 955,000 visited the OG store.

yaohan singapore - thomson plaza
The opening on Thomson Plaza’s outlet met with huge fanfare.
Image credit: The Long and Winding Road

As a Gen Z, I have no recollection of the store, but my mom has fond memories. “When they first opened, people went to queue for anpan red bean bread,” she recalls. That was the “Donki sweet potato” of the era.

yaohan singapore - anpan bread
Image for illustration only.
Image credit: Shirley Sees

“Prices were on the more expensive end,” she added, “but people would still visit to enjoy strolling around the air-conditioned store and dine at the in-house restaurant.” There was even a supervised children’s play area that parents could leave their child at while they did their shopping.

yaohan singapore - plastic bag
Image credit: bymyoldschool via Carousell 

Iconic symbols of the era include the Yaohan plastic bag which would no doubt be a core memory for everyone who visited there back in the day. You can find vintage listings of it today on Carousell for $20.

yaohan singapore - katong poster
Image credit: The Long and Winding Road

Yaohan Department Store expanded rapidly in Singapore over the years with a second outlet in Katong and a third store in Thomson Plaza to target the heartland masses. Following that, more stores popped up at Bukit Timah, Parkway Parade, and Jurong.

Why did Yaohan Singapore close down?

Competition was stiff even back in the day. In the 90s, Yaohan faced serious competition from other retail giants like Takashimaya. Records also suggest that they were simply unable to keep up with changing consumer preferences.

They eventually had to close down all of their stores, with Bukit Timah’s being the first to go, and Thomson Plaza’s the final one to shutter in 1997, marking the end of an era.

Remembering Yaohan Department Store

Does Yaohan still exist? Well, the short answer is not really. At least, not in its original form. The department store declared bankruptcy in 1997 and Yaohan Japan was taken over by the ÆON Group and renamed Maxvalu Tokai, which now has stores in Malaysia, China, Japan, and Thailand.

ÆON also bought over most of the stores in Hong Kong and renamed them JUSCO. If you visit these countries, you can visit to catch a glimpse of history.

For more throwbacks in history:

Cover image adapted from: bymyoldschool via Carousell, CapitaLand, The Long and Winding Road

Drop us your email so you won't miss the latest news.