Wan Chai toy story

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 January, 2008, 12:00am

It may be an ordinary Monday afternoon, but the tiny toy store on Tai Yuen Street is packed. Students in uniform, young adults just off from work, middle-aged men, parents with small children and tourists are gazing at hundreds of colourful miniatures in glass boxes.

'Recently teenage girls have been interested in cute mini toys and mini food such as Japanese sushi, fancy cakes or Italian pizza. We stocked hundreds of different toys and all were sold out,' says Billy Lee, 24, who has worked at Hung Hing Toys for four years.

Dubbed Toy Street, the narrow alley in Wan Chai attracts customers from all walks of life. Even if you're not a collector, you'll be amazed at the diversity of and detail in the products.

Ranging from HK$10 finger-sized Nike trainers keyrings to HK$690 models from anime Gold Lightan, you can find a miniature of almost anything. On the shelves of vehicles, for example, there are fire engines, police cars, vans and cars of different models and eras.

'Middle-aged men love the model cars, especially the vintage vehicles. People in their 20s look for luxurious models like Ferraris. But robots from Transformers, Gold Lightan and Gundam are all-time favourites. We designed some of the products, while most of the figures are imported from Japan,' Mr Lee says.

Tai Yuen Street's fame started a decade ago when three toy stores opened. Choi Fat, the owner of Yat Sing Toys, says his store only sold conventional toys like stuffed animals and stationery at first.

'Over the years we've added products to meet demands. We didn't do promotions or marketing - the street became famous by word of mouth,' Mr Choi says.

Mr Lee, a manga fan himself, describes how stores keep up with the latest trends: 'Hong Kong's sub-culture trend closely follows that of the Japanese. We browse Japanese websites to predict the direction of the market in the coming three months.'

Toys reflect changes in society. 'People used to enjoy assembling a model car and paint it themselves,' says Mr Lee. 'But nowadays they like ready-made models and figures. They don't have the time or patience to assemble one.

'They also opt for nostalgia incorporated with new technology. For example, Saint Seiya, one of the super hit cartoons of the late 1980s hit, has just released a new set of figures. They look more 'real' than those produced decades ago.'

People are now willing to spend more money on toys. 'Parents are more generous as they have fewer children. Besides, many of our customers are young adults who have spending power,' says Mr Choi, whose shop also sells festive accessories like trendy red pockets and fai chun.

Kevin Ho, 22, is one satisfied customer. He visits Toy Street once every few months, as he can get the best deals there.

'I spend about HK$500 on toys a month. The Saint Seiya range is my favourite,' he says.

Tai Yuen Street is part of the hotly debated Wan Chai old district redevelopment project. The government plans to ban all hawkers to broaden the road for vehicle access. Though stores won't be affected, Mr Choi believes Toy Street won't be the same.

'[Tai Yuen Street] has already established itself as a tourist attraction, which is something can't be reproduced by money. There is no reason to destroy it.'