Ipohworld's World

Saving Yesterday For Tomorrow


We’ve all heard (and seen videos) of shopping-adventures (and misadventures too). For those of you who’ve been to Emporium Perak, do share some stories with us 😉

  1. Ngai C O says:


    Perak Emporium came up on 11/09/2013.

    A reader talked about the pig innards porridge stall on the side five foot way. We sat on low tables and stools. One other ingredient was curdled pig blood or loosely black pudding. It was really delicious, cheap and cheerful. Innards went out of fashion for a number of years but its popularity is returning in fashionable upmarket restaurents.

    On the side of the emporium on the side lane was where the flea market plied its trade. I am sure many collecters picked up antique treasures.

    The Pasar Malam did a roaring trade.

    With the emporium, Pasar Malam, Cold Storage and food stalls, the area was crowded at night when Hugh Low Street shut down in the evening.

    On the ground floor, it sold watches and clocks.

    I remember it also sold slush, which was great to cool down.

    In fact, the emporium sold a multitude of goods like a modern day supermarket minus fresh fruit, veg and meat. It stocked canned food, drinks, squash and ice cream though.

    The collapse of the tin mining industry and the emergence of Superkinta killed it off.

    Parkson took over for a while.

    As for the building, my late uncle held his wedding banquet either on the second or third floor.

    • S.Y. says:

      I started acting for Emporium Perak a short while after they opened in Ipoh. They opened a branch in Kampar which was a good move because the place was disused and probably the rent was cheap. They then opened in Sitiawan, which was another good move because the naval base was set up there. I acted for them until they closed down. I disagree with Ngai C O that the collapse of the tin mining industry and the emergence of Super Kinta killed it off. It was probably due to over expansion and the utilisation of the money in other businesses. Those days, it was all dealings in cash and no credit cards were used then. Super Kinta came a lot later.

      Incidentally, in the hey days of the tin mining, no business could match tin mining. You can see millionaires being made overnight. I remember that it was reputed that Perak consumed the most brandy and hard liquour in Malaysia. It was very common to attend dinners with tin miners and bottles of XO were consumed. Perak was reputed to sell the most Mercedes, even beating Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. I met an American second secretary from the American Embassy who forecasted that Perak will die when the tin mining industry dies. No one could imagine it then that the tin industry will collapse.

      • Ngai C O says:

        Hi SY,

        In a 50s study, Labour and Tin Mining in Malaya – Cornell University, it was projected existing tin reserves would be exhausted in a few decades. This projection was not far off the mark.

        At the time, many mines were reworking old mines second or third time round, including dredging.

        No new large reserves of tin were found. I think Petaling Tin Dredging had to dig deep to recover the ore. It came into operation in the late 70s.

        As for how the Americans knew so much about Malaysian Tin Reserves, the USA held the largest stock of tin ingot in the world and for good reasons. It more or less controlled the world tin price releasing it to depress the tin price. Surprising or not, the CIA had a hand in the pie.

        The Tin producers had the International Tin Council to stock tin to artificially keep the price up and even out fluctuations. This was no match to the American might and finally collapsed.

        After the war, Ipoh began to expand and develop on the cusp of tin and rubber and at the same time, tin reserves available to mine were depleting at a steady rate.

        Most mines were working on lower grade reserves like 0.3 kati of tin per cubic yard of spoil. The days of katis of tin per cubic yard or the massive rich reserves that Leong Fee mined at Tanjong Rambutan or the Beatrice Mine Cassiterite pipe in limestone were history.

        People in the industry knew and the bigger players began to diversify overseas beyond the comfort zone.

        Of course, supermarkets then were run differently, perhaps believing that there was always demand and there would always be money to be made. Out of the blue, many competitors set up shop.

        I think the Asian financial crisis more or less coincided with the tin price collapse, which was the last nail in the coffin.

        The two major players in tin mining are in Grik, Rahman Hydraulic and HWG.

        • Ngai C O says:

          Hi SY,

          Correct myself that the Asian Financial Crisis came a decade later.

          When I left Ipoh in 1980, I already knew the time would come a few years down the line but did not pay much attention to its significance

          I remember Perak Emporium was still thriving. I bought my luggage there, which also saw many trips back to Ipoh and to Australia too for nearly 20 years. They were still in good condition when I replaced them.

  2. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Yes, and as Ngai C O says, we’ve talked about this department store before. Some of its (dry) corporate history is given here:


    Opened in 1972, it was Ipoh’s first fully air-conditioned department store, but it was not Ipoh’s first “emporium.” There were several so-called before it, small shops on Hugh Low Street or Leech Street. A more up-market one in the 1960s was Lim Emporium on Station Road, immediately adjacent to the Straits Trading Building.

    Question for Mano if he’s reading: Is that a Morris Marina on Laxamana Road? Mid-’70s? (This timing would make sense if only because the third floor of the building is already in use; whereas originally in 1972 it was not.)

      • Ipoh Remembered says:

        Dear Peter

        Yes, there was. It opened not long after Emporium Perak.

        Today, the space is occupied by Foh San Restaurant.

    • Peter Cheong says:

      Funny that you should mention Lim Emporium as it was open and run by my Aunty. She used to work for Whiteaways before it closed. She sold similar goods including cosmetics. Lim Emporium closed in the mid seventies and my aunt then opened a coffee house at the same location called Magic Bowl!

  3. Mano says:

    Indeed, Ipoh Remembered, it is the Morris Marina and going by the grille design, a two door coupe. The four door had a different grille. This would definitely make it the mid 70’s.
    The Fiat 850 and the Corolla KE10 in the foreground are much older. The taxi parked in front of the Emporium is a Peugeot 403 diesel.

  4. sk says:

    When Perak Emporium opened, I have already left Kinta Valley but I remember coming back in a midnight train. As soon as I alighted from the train, , my father would take me to eat famous Ipoh Chicken Feet which was located at the back of the right hand side of this picture.

  5. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Dear S.Y.

    I started acting for Emporium Perak a short while after they opened in Ipoh.

    I had no idea you were their lawyer. As mentioned above, some time ago I submitted a (highly abbreviated) “corporate history”:


    If you have anything to add or, even better, corrections to offer, I’d appreciate it.

    I disagree with Ngai C O that the collapse of the tin mining industry and the emergence of Super Kinta killed it off. It was probably due to over expansion and the utilisation of the money in other businesses.

    I think you may be right about their financial mismanagement, but I’m sure an economic down-turn — not only in Perak but in the wider region — wasn’t very helpful!

    I met an American second secretary from the American Embassy who forecasted that Perak will die when the tin mining industry dies. No one could imagine it then that the tin industry will collapse.

    I don’t mean to be rude but the last time you told this story the diplomat was a Third Secretary! I trust he earned the promotion!

    • S.Y. says:

      Dear Ipoh Remembered,
      Sorry, this must have been about 40 years ago. Time flies. Could be 3rd secretary.
      Interestingly enough, you may like to know how I come to act for them. One night, two of my friends told me that their wives went shopping with their children at the Emporium Perak. They were stopped when the security guard said that one of the children pocketed a chocolate bar without paying. A search did not reveal any chocolate bar. Thereafter, I was instructed to claim against them. The Assistant Manager, on receipt of my letter came to see me to try to settle the matter. Client demanded a public apology in the newspaper, damages and payment of legal fees. The Assistant Manager then said they were prepared to pay the damages and legal fees but asked to avoid the publication of an apology in the newspaper. I told him to contact my client who subsequently agreed to waive the apology in the newspaper as the Assistant Manager said it would be damaging to them as they were then new and it would be bad publicity. After the matter was resolved, they decided to engage me.
      Subsequently, I learnt that shoplifting is very rampant. Some “customers” after trying on undergarments even left wearing the new ones without paying.

      • Ipoh Remembered says:

        That’s a good story, S.Y.! Thank you for sharing it here.

        The Emporium’s security staff must really have scared and offended your friends’ wives. All for the sake of a chocolate bar that wasn’t there.

      • Ngai C O says:

        Hi S.Y.,

        Maybe you could share with us else where some interesting cases you had to handle.

        Very briefly, I was stopped by security thinking that I had taken something. I refused to let him search me and threw a wobbly to head office.

        I received an apology and £50 Goodwill voucher.

        On another note, someone in Butterworth was jailed for a month for stealing something worth a few ringgit. So much to say for the jobsworth.

        What does it say about the current news.

        • S.Y. says:

          Ngai C.O.,
          Most people presume that criminal cases are interesting and civil cases are boring. Two of my civil cases which I found interesting were one, concerning a Malay man who returned home one evening (he worked in the railways – remember the level crossing?). His neighbour, a fat Malay lady complained that his son poisoned her mother hen and ten chickens. Like most fathers, their children are never wrong. He denied that his son did that. One thing led to another and she used a broomstick and hit him on the head. He pushed her and she fell on her buttocks. She sued him for the bruises on her buttocks, RM30 for the mother hen, and RM3 for each of the chickens. On his behalf, I sued the lady for the injury to his head. When the case came up for hearing the Magistrate scolded both of them for bringing suck a minor case to court saying that only the lawyers benefited. The Magistrate finally forced him to pay RM100 compensation to the lady.

          Another case concerned my client who owned a half breed German shepherd. There was this guy who every morning at 6 a.m. would walk his two dogs past his house. One day my client got fed up and let his dog (which was much bigger than the two dogs loose). The two dogs literally tore my client’s dog apart. My client took a stick and hit the head of one of the dogs when he found that the owner let go of the leases and allowed his dogs to tear my client’s dog apart. My client’s dog died and so did the other dog which my client hit on the head. The owner of the two dogs then sued my client. My client wondered why the two dogs could tear his dog apart when his dog was bigger than either of the two dogs. When he described the two dogs to me, I told him they were bull terriers. When the case went to court, the owner of the two dogs claimed for the cost of the deceased dog (RM600 – it was imported), food for the dogs and medical expenses and potential stud fees. The owner of the dogs was serious about the case and brought in a veterinary surgeon as his witness. My client also claimed for his dead mixed breed dog. The lady Magistrate laughed when I asked the vet surgeon how he knew the dog can perform stud services when the dog was dead when he examined the dog. Both the owner of the dog’s claim and my client’s claim were dismissed.

  6. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Dear Peter Cheong

    It was your aunt who ran “The House of Vanity”? (This was the Lim Emporium’s “slogan” and it always gave me a chuckle.)

    Closed it in the mid-’70s, do you say? I wonder if you have (or can obtain) photographs of the old place, or of the Magic Bowl. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’d like to see them!

  7. Del N says:

    Wow…..it seems I have some seniors here. I definitely remember Emporium Perak. My parents used to bring me over during the 80s when I was just a little kid. As a kid back then, toy department was my favourite place. They used to have quite a variety but after a while, they just lost out to Super Kinta. Hence, not long after, the whole Emporium changed to Parkson for a few years before the fire took over and destroyed the entire building and a few of the shops nearby.
    Truly memorable.

  8. Ipoh Remembered says:

    Always good to see you here, dear Ruth. Some days when I’m perusing the ipohWorld database it seems that every third item was donated by you! Thanks so much.

    Yes, you’re talking about the “Perak Emporium” building. It was officially opened on the 17th of February, 1934 — and after the ceremony and speeches, there was a reception. Lam Looking and his wife were both present.

    In Lam Looking’s speech he credited the firm of Keys & Dowdeswell for the design of the building. I’m almost certain your father was an employee at the time. Was he still the head of the firm’s Ipoh office?

    And in his papers does it say who the building contractor was? I know it was a local Chinese towkay — but for the life of me I can’t seem to retrieve his name. Perhaps you can!

  9. Ruth Iversen Rollitt says:

    The original building was designed by Keys & Dowdeswell as you rightly say, but after they had to leave Malaya and my father took over the firm, he made changes and supervised the building. Read all about it in my book!

    I’ll go through my papers and try to find the name of the contractor! I am so happy that I have been able to help with your wonderful website!

    • Ipoh Remembered says:

      Dear Ruth … I’m not quite sure what you mean there but I am just a reader of this web-site. The hard work is all done by ika and felicia and Christopher!

      Yes, I have read your book a number of times. It’s wonderful. The photographs, your text, and your father’s charming cartoons: all very special and it’s a real service you’ve done by publishing them.

      As for the relationship between your dad and Keys and Dowdeswell, yes, I do have some questions. For example: At the bottom of p. 38 of your book there is a sketch. It looks like the original design for the Lam Looking Building but the caption says your father drew the sketch in a private letter. Was he reproducing a sketch produced by someone else at the firm or does the sketch represent his vision? Does it say in the letter? I’m curious.

    • Ipoh Remembered says:

      Dear Ruth

      Another thing I meant to add:

      On p. 29 of your book, at the top of the left-hand column, the “new four-story building by Keys & Dowdeswell” commissioned by the Times of Malaya in the late 1920s is described as being “located near the Birch Memorial.”

      In fact, it was located on Brewster Road.

      Whereas the Times building that was next to the Birch Memorial clock tower was the paper’s previous home. It was built a few years before the Memorial, and not by the firm of Keys & Dowdeswell, which did not yet exist at the time.

      (Just a small correction you can make if the book goes into a second edition.)

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