Bargain hunters splash out $10m to ease Yaohan debts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 November, 1997, 12:00am

AT least 100,000 bargain hunters yesterday helped failed department store Yaohan pay off some of its estimated billion dollar debts.

Shoppers who flocked to the Japanese chain's nine stores across Hong Kong spent up to $10 million, liquidators said, in their cut-price, cash-only sale.

Food and supermarket items, which were going for about two-thirds of their usual price, were shunned by shoppers who instead grabbed the clothes, shoes, toys, kitchenware and other household items that were marked down by 60 per cent.

Some had waited through the night to make sure they were at the head of the queue when the doors opened at 10 am, while at Hung Hom they were forced to let shoppers in 30 minutes early to ensure their safety.

Store liquidator Matthew O'Driscoll said shoppers had treated it 'not just as a sale but as an occasion'.

'Given the enormous logistics, it's gone fairly well. It's been absolute bedlam but with very little serious trouble,' he said.

The buying frenzy was particularly fierce at the Tuen Mun and Ma On Shan stores. People had to enter in 'shifts' - up to 100 shoppers for no more than 30 minutes.

Confusion also reigned at the Lam Tin store which 'opened' and 'closed' several times during the day as staff and police sought to ease crowd pressure.

'The infrastructure around the stores was just not set up for this sort of crowd, but the whole thing seems to be quite good-natured,' Mr O'Driscoll added.

At Ma On Shan, a pedestrian road bridge was blocked off to keep queues in line, while shoppers were given number chips to make sure they kept their places.

Hong Kong Yaohan Department Store Limited went bust almost two weeks ago, unable to pay rent or its suppliers.

Of the 2,700 people made jobless by the move, about 500 returned to their tills yesterday.

Today, beer and supermarket items will be cut 60 per cent and remaining items will be slashed by 80 per cent in an effort to sell all the stock, said Mr O'Driscoll.

The liquidators will then try to sell shop-fittings such as cash registers to clear the stores.