A Universe in the Heartlands

Interview by Tay Huizhen
Photography by Jovian Lim

When walking down the Lorong Liput entrance to Holland Village, there is a shaded section towards the left where a vast, colourful array of magazines, newspapers and periodicals—both mainstream and eclectic—sits. Third-generation owner Mr. P Senthilmurugan, known to his customers as Sam, has kept the long-running heartland newsstand afloat out of sheer love for the business. The soft-spoken man shares his take on new media and lesser-known facts about the popular family-run store.

A universe in the heartlands thambi magazine store

Thambi Magazine Store has been around for a long time. How did it start?

My grandfather, Govindasamy, was a migrant from India who came to Singapore in the 1930s. He delivered newspapers on bicycle in the Holland Village kampong. At that time, my father, G.P. Thambi, was still schooling when he met with an accident. He didn’t go back to his studies and, instead, helped my dad with his business. The British soldiers who stayed in Chip Bee Gardens would ask my father for popular magazines. In 1996, we got the shop space.

And you took over soon after? How did your father show you the ropes?

I was preparing to become a seaman but it was too labour-intensive. From young, I helped my dad to sort the newspapers early every morning, at seven, to get pocket money. But when he had diabetes later on, I took over the family business. I never wanted to do it, but I’m really thankful to my dad because my love for the business grew over time. He tells me that the more you struggle, the better you will be.

A universe in the heartlands thambi magazine store

What was the publishing industry like back then, as compared to now?

Back then, money was small but value was big. The industry today has reached its peak; you can get any magazine easily. People say that technology is killing the industry, but I think the trade will survive. Browsing magazines at a shop is more relaxing than searching for titles on the net. My friends have told me to diversify, saying, “All youngsters are now on iPhones or iPads. WHSmith and Borders have all gone down.” Others also said my business would die during the dot-com boom. I’ve had good times, and days where I had to struggle, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Since taking over, what new elements have you introduced to the business?

In those days, my father would wrap up the magazines. But there would be no exposure to new customers this way. So, I came up with the display and how the magazines should be categorised. Magazine display is an art. One subject can have different angles. You must know the titles well to classify them.

Read more in The U Press N˚2 (Singapore edition).