Chocoolate preferred to milk tea as landlord raises rent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am


Lan Fong Cafe, a typical cha chaan teng serving milk tea and Swiss sauce chicken wings near Times Square, closed its doors at the weekend after serving the neighbourhood for more than two decades.

Its rent more than doubled, forcing it out in favour of clothing retailer I.T, according to Lan Fong staff. Its neighbouring stores are Chocoolate, a brand under I.T, and clothing brand Roxy.

Lan Fong is just the latest victim of soaring rents in an area popular with mainlanders. As Chinese University's associate professor of economics Terence Chong Tai-leung put it: 'Only big brands can survive. It's impossible to sell egg tarts next to a Louis Vuitton flagship store.'

The UA Cinema, which had operated on the second floor of Times Square for 18 years, has closed and will move to the 12th floor of the mall. Louis Vuitton will move into the prime space it used to occupy.

Old San Yang, a shop selling traditional food and hairy crabs on the busy pedestrian link between Times Square and the Sogo department store, moved to a quieter street last year after three decades in business.

In Tsim Sha Tsui, the flagship bookshop of The Commercial Press moved from Star House next to Harbour City - a magnet for tourists - to the Miramar Shopping Centre as long ago as 2007. Hon Wing Book, having operated in Sai Yeung Choi Street for four decades, packed up its textbooks and headed to Jordan last year.

'In the 1980s, small shops selling electronic products and cameras lined Sai Yee Street and Yim Po Fong Street. Now big brands like Broadway fill Sai Yeung Choi Street's pedestrian zone,' Mong Kok district councillor Chan Wai-keung said. Convenience shops are retreating from the busiest streets.

Massage parlours that target tourists had mushroomed along Canton Road and Haiphong Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, councillor Hung Chiu-wah said. Property agencies selling luxury flats were also booming.

Lawmaker Wong Sing-chi said rents had risen as much as 10 times at the Shek Wu Hui market in Sheung Shui since 2003 - a draw with mainland visitors because of its proximity to the border. 'Even Watsons could not stand the rent hike. [Cosmetics chain] Sasa has taken its place.' Low-end sports-shoe and food sellers targeting locals had been forced out.

People who make a living carrying milk formula and electronic products across the border occupy the exits at Sheung Shui railway station. Wong asked the police to act but there has been little improvement.

University of Hong Kong professor of sociology Lui Tai-lok said tension between locals and tourists had always existed. In some Southeast Asian countries, residents' interests came second to those of tourists, for whom the best beaches were reserved. 'Hongkongers need to ask themselves what they want,' Lui said.

Authorities should balance residents' expectations with the employment benefits brought by tourism.

Still, the cultural cultural confrontation in Hong Kong was still mild, he noted. In Taiwan, which draws far fewer mainland tourists, locals had fought visitors with their fists.