Stanley stallholders head for the exits

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

Disgruntled tenants of Stanley Waterfront Mart will abandon their stores next weekend after the government refused to waive their rents amid ongoing construction and unfinished facilities.

Seven shopkeepers who occupy the stylish, single-storey, wood-and-glass structures along the prime waterfront property, said a lack of promotion, inadequate provisions such as lighting and benches and construction sites at the football pitch had driven visitors away.

The tenants have also criticised the unsuitable design of the west-facing shops, saying they are exposed to the elements and the afternoon sun and lack shelter from the rain.

The move will leave 14 of the 20 shops vacant along the HK$14 million promenade.

The mart, dubbed 'ghost town' by the tenants, was built to replace Stanley's only wet market on the same site and designed as both a tourist attraction and a wet market to serve local residents.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has stipulated that about half of the shops facing the sea must be reserved for vendors of wet market goods, from fresh meat and fish to fruit and vegetables.

Seven shops reserved for selling fresh produce remain empty despite three government attempts since December to rent them out through open tender.

When the tenants move out, Stanley's only wet market will consist of one vegetable store.

Tsui Chit, 50, who runs a souvenir store, said they felt like they had been cheated by the government.

'We feel like we have been swindled into renting half-finished properties,' he said.

'There are no chairs or tables, inadequate lighting, hammering and banging from the construction sites. It is all directly affecting our business.

'They agreed to install awnings but that won't be until the end of May. We want to go on but they won't give us a chance.'

Even among the remaining tenants who plan to stay, enthusiasm appears to be flagging. Yuen Wah-hing, mother of the owner of Warm Delicious Snack Shop, said her son had lost all interest in running the business.

'My son doesn't even bother to get up in the mornings to watch over the shop, so I have to do it,' said Ms Yuen.

But those who are leaving have asked the government for priority over other bidders to lease the shops when the work is finished, expected to be the middle of the year.

A department spokeswoman said it was working on providing awnings, tables and benches but the existing stallholders would not be given priority in returning.