Hawkers spread wings amid transformation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 January, 2012, 12:00am


Hawkers in the city's oldest market have found a way to keep working amid the clamour of the redevelopment in Graham Street by moving into Transformer-like stalls provided by the Urban Renewal Authority.

The nine fixed stalls, which sell fruit and vegetables, used to stand against the old blocks in Mid-Levels that are making way for a block of flats and a new shopping area. To ensure they could continue with their business during demolition and reconstruction, the authority moved them about a metre from the work site and settled them into the new stalls.

The structures, designed by the authority, look like boxes when they are closed for the night. But during the day metal surfaces extend outwards, providing hawkers with more selling space.

'Transformers can turn from cars into robots,' said Wilfred Au Chun-ho, the authority's senior manager of planning and design, referring to a popular toy. 'Our stalls, with their shelves pulled out, can look like robots when tenants do business.'

A retractable tarpaulin on top of each metal cage was fire-resistant, he said, and the electrical wiring for the stalls was laid underground, which was safer than leaving wires dangling in mid-air.

When the stalls were being designed, Au became aware of some hawker 'trade secrets'. 'They wanted the stalls to be green. I asked if other colours, such as purple, would work, but a tenant said that colour would stand out too much. If a thief came by, he would head to that stall.'

The relocation of the nine stalls came after 14 other stalls and shops at the wet market were moved to nearby Gage Street in December 2010. The entire market will be resettled in a new, two-storey structure to be completed on the site around 2015.

Christine Li, a vegetable hawker who moved into a new stall, said business had declined in recent years due to the neighbourhood ageing. She hopes reconstruction will revitalise the area. 'I've seen concrete pieces falling off old buildings, so I support redevelopment,' she said.

A grocery stall owner said her work had been unavoidably affected by the redevelopment. 'I used to store my goods in nearby buildings, but they have been pulled down. Now I have to put them elsewhere, and it takes much longer for me to set up my stall,' she said.

Meanwhile, 90 stallholders and shops in the area took part in a marketing campaign organised by the authority over the past three weeks, in which shoppers were given souvenirs including bags, T-shirts and mats.

The authority hopes the campaign will boost the market's appeal.