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The best novelty shops in Singapore

These hip boutiques will satisfy all your quirky needs

Chain stores and outlets are great for when you need to stock up on basic essentials but if you’re looking for unique pieces then hit up these novelty shops packed with quirky items. From ceramic plates printed with the skyline of Singapore to unique scented candles inspired by California, these are just some interesting finds you can dig out at these places.

Outside

Who knew you could still look cool while braving the heat outdoors. Whether it’s for hiking, camping or just a casual picnic, all your outdoor adventure needs can be found at Outside. Decked out in faux lush greenery, brick walls and pebbles, the store keeps you inspired as you browse the wide range of essentials such as backpacks, weather-resistant clothing, portable chairs and even mini refrigerators from brands like Fjallraven, Patagonia, Alite Design and CHUMS.

Monument Lifestyle

Inspired by the travels of store owners Dustin Ramos and Iris Sangalang, this lifestyle shop and café is all about the laidback vibes. At its retail front, you’ll find American menswear labels such Katin and Alex Mill that have yet to make their way into the mainstream. And when you’re done browsing through colourful socks, luxe scented candles and t-shirts, grab a cup of coffee or nosh on artisanal bread at the café.

Zha Huo Dian

Loosely translated from Chinese to “convenience store”, this shop in Far East Plaza stocks everything under the sun. Except for snacks. Here’s where to go for cool streetwear with a hint of nostalgia in Orchard. There are graphic tees, canvas jackets, bowling shirts, pieces with horseshoe prints and more. You might even find retro gadgets, old-school trinkets and vinyl records. Why would you ever go to another high-street fashion chain again?

Cat Socrates

Home to a cluster of cool cafés and eateries like Forty Hands and Plain Vanilla and more, the ever-so-hip neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru also has interesting stores like BooksActually, Woods In The Books and Cat Socrates. Like its other branch in Joo Chiat, Cat Socrates stocks all kinds of trinkets like locally made scented candles, novelty books, pretty stationery, Hawaiian shirts and earrings. You can find pieces by regional designers as well as unique local souvenirs that are way more interesting than a Merlion keychain.

Gallery and Co

Not your average museum store, Gallery and Co brings together retail, activity spaces and eateries. Curated by r estaurateur and hotelier Loh Lik Peng, Foreign Policy Design Group and Alwyn Chong of Luxasia – collectively known as ‘& Co’ – the retail section stocks products from local and international brands. There’s stuff from General Object, Supermama and Smile Q&Q, whose solar-powered watches can be found in a huge vending machine. And since it’s housed in a temple to art, it also carries merchandise, like tees and even bar soaps, inspired by the artworks in the gallery.

These hip boutiques will satisfy all your quirky needs

‘One 80s pop star buys stink bombs’: inside Britain’s struggling joke shops

They have tickled the British for decades. So why are fake poo peddlers finding it harder to raise a smile?

Hanna Hanra’s parents, Bill and Cathi Cowan, outside their Edinburgh joke shop. Photograph: Robert Ormerod/The Guardian

Hanna Hanra’s parents, Bill and Cathi Cowan, outside their Edinburgh joke shop. Photograph: Robert Ormerod/The Guardian

I can only blame myself for my parents’ career as unwitting joke shop owners. As a child, I was preoccupied with Monty Python, and longed for a rubber chicken. I had never seen one in real life, but had a sense that it would bring boundless comedic joy.

At the time, my parents already ran a retail business, and their search for a chicken led them to Ray Peckett, the owner of the UK’s largest joke and costume wholesalers, Smiffys. As family legend has it, Ray would only sell them one if they promised to open a joke shop. So they did.

Three months later, painted a retina-scorching orange, and with an eight-foot, 3D comedy nose and glasses sign on Edinburgh’s Victoria Street, Aha Ha Ha Jokes and Novelties was doing a roaring trade. It is said to have become JK Rowling’s inspiration for Zonko’s joke shop in the Harry Potter series. As a teenager, I spent every weekend and school holiday working there. Manning the till under a mirror ball and a menagerie of inflatable animals, I encountered people from every walk of life. Whoopee cushions, fake turds and things that go bang have egalitarian appeal; even the most prudish lady will titter at a wind-up waddling willy. You are never too old for a blue-mouth sweet. I still remember selling two fake bottoms to a man whose breath was more nose-meltingly potent than any can of fart gas.

There were a few notable customers, too. Once, Glen Campbell appeared in the doorway, resplendent in full Rhinestone Cowboy get-up. Mum flogged him a twirling bow tie and a stick-on third eye. An Oscar-winning director bought the shop’s entire stock of whoopee cushions, for reasons unknown.

Today, the shop has barely changed; the fake handcuffs and glow-in-the-dark bone maracas still hang next to the “giant mistake” novelty erasers. The most popular celebrity masks are no longer Margaret Thatcher and Mr Bean, but Donald Trump and superheroes. There’s a fair amount of schoolboy wizard-related items, and a certain 1960s bucktooth gigolo is still popular.

People always laugh when I tell them my parents own a joke shop, but it’s a very serious business. The slow strangulation of the high street, the failing pound, Amazon and a generation of people who are happy to shop directly from their phones mean that the past few years have been difficult. After 26 years, my parents have decided to sell up and retire – but hope that the new owner continues to run it as a joke shop.

How much do we still need them? In these distinctly unhumorous times, I set out to meet other joke shop owners determined to keep looking on the funny side.

If someone buys Elvis glasses, I’ll start talking like Elvis – I can’t help it: Graham Williams, Dinsdales, Hull

Graham Williams at Dinsdales in Hull. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

Coming into our shop is like going back in time. I display the stock in old boxes from the 1930s, 40s and 50s; we don’t carry that stock any more, but people like to look at it and remember. People tell me about coming in when they were kids – it’s just a lovely memory for them. When younger people come in, they ask, “How much is that?” and then find it for £2 cheaper on the internet. I have a little eBay shop, but I do think we’ve been left behind a bit. I just can’t compete online.

I like to meet customers and give them a bit of silly patter. Anything I sell, I go into character. If someone buys Elvis glasses, I’ll start talking like Elvis – I can’t help it. My kids find it a bit embarrassing. When we used to go on holiday, my son and I would put in false teeth and wear them out to restaurants. My daughter would be mortified, but you have to have fun. There used to be an old chap who would come in and buy clown noses: he just always wore one, everywhere he went. Even his bus pass had a picture of him wearing one. Back in the day, Tommy Cooper used to come in: he never bought magic tricks, but he did buy props for his show.

A Donald Trump keyring. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

Making people laugh is good. Grandad Dinsdale opened this shop 90 years ago. I’ve been running it for about 20 years, but I’m not going to celebrate our 90th birthday; we’ll just quietly plod on. I always thought it would go on for ever, because kids would always want to spend their pocket money in a joke shop, but the past five years have been very difficult. I keep hearing of other joke shops closing down. All the shops in Hull have gone from the main shopping area – we’ve just lost M&S and Boots. It can be demoralising on days when nobody comes in.

Uncle George Dinsdale, who took over from Grandad, used to say that coming into the joke shop was like going to the doctor’s. Laughter keeps you healthy. Uncle George is still involved. One day we were chatting on the phone and a man walked in and said, “I bought a magic book off Mr Dinsdale in 1954, and he said if I wanted to bring it back he would give me a refund.” The man said he paid ten shillings, so Uncle George said, “I remember him, go in the till and give him 50p.”

Recently, a man came in who had grown up in Hull but moved to Canada. He was with his son and showed him all the magic tricks he used to buy. He was so happy that we were still here after all this time. I was thinking, “Come on, spend a little bit of money.” The magic tricks were £2, but they left without buying anything at all.

The bestsellers are horrible sweets and fake poos. Anything disgusting, kids love’: Thule Letts, 49, The Joke Shop, Margate

Thule Letts at her joke shop in Margate. Photograph: Alan Powdrill/The Guardian

Mum and Dad had a shell shop about 50 years ago, but they always sold Kiss Me Quick hats and little novelty items. By 1977, they had opened a joke shop in the arcade, and next door they opened a bong shop. We moved both premises into one big shop nine years ago.

I don’t think the function of a joke shop has ever changed. People’s sense of humour hasn’t changed. The whoopee cushion was invented 100 years ago and it is still funny. What has changed is fancy dress costumes: young people want to look unique, and there’s some things they just won’t buy, like Native American costumes. There’s been a few things that have been banned. We used to sell this thing you’d poke in a cigarette and it would make the ash “snow”. It said “harmful by inhalation” on the packet, and that got banned quite quickly. I sell a £1.50 retractable knife and I wonder when that will die out – it’s not a funny thing to pretend to plunge a knife into someone.

I had cancer a few years ago and I had to let go of our general manager. So now my two adult nephews can do split shifts between the joke shop and the bong shop. I am going to keep the business going as long as possible – the joke shop can’t close on my watch. My nephews are going to take it over, hopefully. I have a daughter, but she’s only eight and I’m not sure what a joke shop will be doing in 10 years’ time.

Margate has changed quite a lot recently: it’s got pretty cool, but I don’t think it’s affected our takings. Amazon and eBay are our biggest threat. I love it when people say they’ve bought something from eBay and not realised it will take 16 weeks to ship from China.

I always joke that a joke shop is a non-profit organisation. It ebbs and flows. We do have times that are really busy, like Halloween, book week, Easter and New Year’s Eve. It can be stressful, but not as stressful as the seafood bar I used to run. The best bit is when a little kid comes in and spends an hour choosing something for 50p, and the worst days are when I don’t take a bean.

We specialise in everything. I have over 3,000 lines of stock. The bestsellers are horrible sweets and fake poos. Anything disgusting, kids love. We have a disgruntled 80s pop star who comes in regularly and buys stink bombs. I think he breaks them in places he doesn’t like. One of my customers came in and said she had to stop buying stuff: she’d given her dad such a fright that he’d jumped up out of his chair and had a stroke. She’d played every prank on him, but in the end it was an electric-shock pen that got him.

‘Nothing surprises young people – they’ve seen it all on YouTube’: Adaline Langton, 43, Drummers House of Jokes, Blackpool

Adaline Langton at Drummers House of Jokes. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

I read something that said “always know your target audience”, but our audience is everyone of every age. The only people we don’t appeal to are probably young women – I don’t think a clown horn is interesting to them. They buy costumes, but glamorous ones. We used to have a lot of little old ladies come in, then we had a lot of stag and hen dos. But they don’t really come to Blackpool any more; it’s a lot more family-oriented now.

The town itself is in disarray. There’s not another shop open on our street. We’re not on the promenade, but people still make the effort to come in. We have Chucky painted on the back of the shop and a clown on the side, so a lot of people take photos, too. The council wants to regenerate this area, and they want to buy back our lease. But what they have offered us won’t cover rent for a shop in town. It would be the end of us, and I’m not trained to do anything else.

A hen mask. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian

Things move in trends. People used to want to be a witch, but we haven’t sold a witch for 10 years. It was always a witch or a devil costume, then it was zombies and vampires. Halloween is our busiest time; it’s also half-term so we get all the schoolkids coming in. We don’t do a stock take. We never started out doing one, so we’ve never done it. If something doesn’t sell, we laugh about it.

Joke purchases are very impulsive, and that doesn’t translate to internet shopping. You can’t really sell a shocking pen online. It’s the whole impulse of going into the shop, seeing the shocking pen, laughing about it and thinking, “I’m going to go home and trick someone with this.” You don’t need a shocking pen, but you go home with two. But nothing surprises young people any more – they’ve seen it all on YouTube. It’s a shame, for them.

My dad ran a flower shop in 1978, and someone gave him a box of jokes. He put them on the counter and they sold out. We still have the same counter. I’ve got three daughters, and two of them work here with me. I encouraged them to do other things, but they want to work here. There’s never a dull moment. Our motto is: if you can’t take a joke, don’t come in.

They have tickled the British for decades. So why are fake poo peddlers finding it harder to raise a smile? ]]>