This Old Ipoh Building That Was Once A Famous Tailor Shop Has A Unique History Behind It
When people think of Ipoh, two things come to mind; food and white coffee!
But Ipoh is also known for being the heritage city of Malaysia.
So, it's not surprising that there was once a nearly 60-year-old tailor shop, called U.S. Peter, that has an interesting history.
The pre-war building located at Jalan Sultan Yusuf (previously known as 95, Belfield Street), where Burps & Giggles café used to reside, only retains the tailor shop's fading signboard, which was thankfully maintained by the owner.
However, before housing U.S. Peter, the building was occupied by a Japanese spy under the pretense of running a photography studio, as reported by New Straits Times.
MiCasa Photography or Mikasa Photo Studio run by Masaji Fukabori alias Masaji Hosaka, was one of the first photo studios in Perak.
Unfortunately, he was arrested after his cover was blown. The store was then closed for a few years until it was bought over by U.S. Peter.
Prior to establishing U.S. Peter in 1936, the owner, 29-year-old Sardar Pertap Singh, worked as a tailor at a British-owned departmental store along 33, Station Road (now Jalan Dato Maharaja Lela)
In an interview with Ipoh Echo, Pertap's granddaughter, Charanjeet Kaur, shared that in 1928, Pertap came to Malaya from Jalandhar, Punjab on a ship, with only a bag of belongings, in search of better opportunities.
Only 21 years old then, he left his family's tailoring business after obtaining a certificate in tailoring and gaining enough skills and experiences working as an apprentice with his uncles.
Pertap also acquired the trade secrets of sewing ladies' dresses and other tailoring skills under the mentorship of a British woman who was residing in Jalandhar.
"U.S. Peter is named after my great grandfather, Utham Singh, thus 'U.S.'. Meanwhile, 'Pertap' became 'Peter', the name given by the lady boss of the store where he worked since she could not pronounce the latter," Charanjeet said.
The tailor shop was run by a team of 12 Sikh tailors, led by Pertap. Together, they not only sewed men's clothing for the British officers, but also dresses and gowns for their wives to wear to social events.
Pertap's painstaking work earned him a reputation among Ipoh's European community.
According to Arlene House's Facebook post, U.S. Peter became known as specialists in female dress making and dealers of all kinds of silk, cottons, rayon, and ready-made clothing in Ipoh.
"He loved his job as a tailor and took pride in his sewing. Many who knew my late grandfather can attest to that. I used to look forward to visit him as I'd get new clothes each time," Charanjeet shared.
In a twist of events, Pertap was captured by the Japanese army during World War II in 1945, for going against their rule that bans the trade of black fabric, as it was seen to be anti-Japanese
Luckily, during his arrest, a Japanese officer recognised Pertap and notified his superior that Pertap was selling black cloth because he was a tailor. He was then released from the Batu Gajah prison not long after that officer's help.
However, Pertap's business suffered again, when his shop got robbed a few months later. He lost quality materials, most of the ready-made garments, and family jewellery that was stored there.
Some kindhearted clients even collected money to help him out. To repay his clients, he continued to sew through the difficult period.
Pertap's daughter, Jasbir Kaur told Ipoh Echo, "Although he lost everything he was always positive-minded. When business was booming we had new clothes almost every week. He was a well-respected figure in the community and was helpful to anyone in need."
Jasbir shared that she and her late older sister, Mahinder Kaur, learned tailoring to assist their father during this trying time.
Following the robbery, Pertap began sewing for the local community. He also started making costumes for Indian classical dancers.
A while after the robbery, some of his tailors return back to India, only leaving the local tailors behind, who stayed back to help him. However, even they eventually left to look for better opportunities.
Pertap's family recalls him being a very soft-spoken and humble man, who'd volunteer daily at the Ipoh Wadda Gurdwara and never missed his prayers
He also spoiled his grandchildren with sweets, chocolates, and comic books from the tuck shop that was within U.S. Peter, while telling them stories about his past, especially during his time in Malaya.
"I remember he only wore a white shirt, white turban and dark-coloured pants (either black or blue). He always had his signature black umbrella as his walking aid. To this date, I still have the dress which he sewed for my third birthday," Charanjeet told Ipoh Echo.
Despite many of his tailors moving away over the years, Pertap remained working until he passed away in 1994, at 87 years old. He was aided by a petite Chinese lady from Buntong, known only as "Missy", who stayed on until his demise.
Pertap's shop, which has been abandoned for many years, was revived when Ipoh City Council decided to transform the old Belfield Street into a heritage street.
"It's a nice gesture for the owner of Burps & Giggles to retain the signboard and old decor as they were. Every time we are in Ipoh, we will stop by the shop just to take a peek and feel a sense of pride seeing the signboard," Charanjeet said.
Nevertheless, the iconic U.S. Peter signage remains!