Design, high rents dampen trade at Stanley wet market

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 February, 2007, 12:00am

It may be Hong Kong's swankiest wet market, but on most days there is hardly a shopper in sight at the new Stanley Waterfront Mart.

Shopkeepers in the stylish, single-storey, wood-and-glass structures along prime waterfront property say business is bleak because of the unsuitable design of the shops and construction work still being carried out on the HK$14 million promenade.

Most tourists and locals are unaware that the shops are open, and business in the 'ghost town' has suffered to the point that shopkeepers recently staged a protest, asking the government to waive their rent at least until the renovation has been completed.

The centre was built to replace Stanley's only wet market on the same site, but some tenants are beginning to question the government's wisdom of reserving expensive waterfront retail space for shops selling fresh produce.

The centre's landlord, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, has stipulated that about half of the 20 shops facing the sea must be reserved for the vendors of wet market goods, from fresh meat and fish to fruits and vegetables. Only 13 shops have been let.

Scarlett Yuen Mei-yi, a 26-year-old who opened a souvenir shop in the centre last month, said: 'I don't think it's a good idea to put a stall selling pork or live fish in such a beautiful tourist attraction. Everyone hates the idea and they think it's a waste of public money.'

She added that, in contrast to its outwardly sharp architectural style, the building was poorly designed. 'When it's sunny, it's hot enough to drive me mad, and when it rains, the roof leaks. I wonder what's going to happen in a typhoon.

'And it's a ghost town here. On any given weekday there cannot be more than 50 people who pass by, and no tour groups come.'

Ms Yuen is paying a hefty monthly rent of HK$23,000 - from money she borrowed to start the business - and is worried she may be forced to close, heavily in debt.

Leung Ching-yee, 45, who runs a vegetable stall, said she was losing two month's worth of rent every month and had to dump 90 per cent of her stock every day.

'The government did not consider our needs at all in the design of the waterfront,' she said. 'The shop faces west, so throughout the afternoon the sun shines directly on my vegetables, which turn yellow in a couple of hours and spoil by the end of the day.'

So far, seven shops reserved for selling fresh meat, fish and produce are empty despite three government attempts since December to rent them out through open tender. The shop owners said operators at the old wet market refused to move in because the rent was too high, so there is no fully operating wet market in the district.

Officials said they were considering converting four of the empty shops to sell newspapers and house aquariums.

But the proposal has met resistance from the Southern District Council, which is concerned that residents will then have no alternative to visiting supermarkets when buying fresh meat and fish.

A government spokesman said they would consider adding shading facilities as part of future improvement works. They are also considering the shopkeepers' request for rental concessions.