Lai See
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 5:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 11:37am

New 7-Eleven in Lan Kwai Fong dismays bar owners

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

Bar owners in Lan Kwai Fong were dismayed some weeks ago to see a new 7-Eleven convenience store open up opposite Stormies at the top of D'Aguilar Street. Why the dismay?

The two 7-Elevens in Lan Kwai Fong are no ordinary 7-Elevens. Walk into one and you immediately see large display shelves jammed with imported beers, wine, liquor shots and more.

The beauty of these stores is that those looking for a night out in LKF can stop at one of these, buy drinks and then, since it is not illegal to drink in the street in Hong Kong, they can step back into the street and the music and throng that make up the LKF milieu.

And they can do it at a fraction of the price it costs to drink at nearby bars where you will pay HK$50-HK$60 for beer compared with HK$7-HK$12 for the same at a 7-Eleven. So well entrenched are these 7-Elevens in the LKF scene, they are jokingly referred to as Club 7 or Club 7-Elevens in the online entertainment blogs and magazines on the internet.

This arrangement is bizarre given that owners of bars and restaurants in the area go to enormous expense to fit out their premises and are subject to strict regulation by the Liquor Licensing Board. So it is hardly a level playing field to have 7-Elevens operating in the area with such a competitive advantage.

Some years ago a man with a small premises in LKF that carved chops, decided to invest in a couple of freezer chests, which he packed with ice and beer. He was closed down after a couple of weeks by the police but it transpired that on one Friday evening he did about HK$38,000 worth of business.

One of the requirements of licensed premises is that they don't sell liquor to minors. But the 7-Elevens, in addition to operating like a no-frills bar in the area, are also allowed to sell alcohol to minors. Indeed there are no restrictions on retail outlets such as convenience stores and supermarkets from selling to minors. Although some as a matter of policy do not, there is no legal requirement.

As a result it is not an uncommon practice for minors to buy alcohol in convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and disappear off to the beaches or parks "to party", much to the consternation of parents. This is surely undesirable. Retail premises such as convenience stores and supermarkets selling liquor should be licensed to sell alcohol, and it should not be sold to minors.

The Legislative Council missed a good opportunity to change the law in 2011 following a review by the Food and Health Bureau of the liquor licensing regulations. Also, the chief executive in council has for many years had the authority to issue regulations to regulate the sale of liquor for consumption off the premises and specifically to regulate or prohibit the sale and supply of liquor to minors.

But this power has never been used. It is time it was, though there are whispers, the truth of which we cannot confirm, that some people are not wholly in favour of such controls.

 

The Italian Job

We are all too familiar with the scale of illegal parking in Hong Kong, but the problem is far worse in Rome.

The Italians, according to a Reuters report, are unfazed about parking their cars and scooters on traffic islands, the pavement or simply in the middle of the street.

But at least the police there have come up with a creative attempt at dealing with the problem, which is more than can be said for the half-hearted efforts here in Hong Kong.

Citizens who spot illegally parked cars can alert a dedicated police Twitter account, @PLRomaCapitale. The police then reply to say when they have taken action - which typically is in a matter of hours.

A number of readers have suggested variations of this approach for Hong Kong. But then that would require some serious effort on the part of the police to do something about it. But you get the sense that the police, or rather the senor officers since they set the tone, don't think it's a major problem.

The scheme in Rome is the brainchild of the new head of the urban police force, Raffaele Clemente, who says that the initiative aims to create a cultural shift. "Sharing, such as on social networks, is needed to fight certain patterns of illegality and rule breaking, and also of crime," he said. Absolutely!

 

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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