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City Weekend

One Wan Chai general store helping its community to remember the ‘simpler times’

Owner Li says all the old independently-run shops around Star Street have been replaced by supermarkets and convenience stores

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 December, 2016, 11:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2016, 11:02am

With a humble storefront, Leekeestore on Star Street in Wan Chai is perhaps one of only a few independently-run general stores left in the area.

The shop owner, who wanted to be identified only as Mr Li, has been in business for more than 30 years. During that time, he said all the shops around him had been replaced by chain convenient stores or supermarkets.

Li said shopping in an independently-owned general store was special because of its human touch. He said unlike chain convenient stores in which customers are left alone to make their purchases, here the shop “serves and connects a neighbourhood”.

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“I exchange pleasantries with customers and I get to know them,” he said.

“It used to be that people from the neighbourhood originally came to buy just one beer, but ended up staying for a dozen more. We talked and exchanged stories.”

Li said nowadays, such an experience was much more rare as people become more accustomed to shopping “almost indifferently”. He added, however, that many people from the neighbourhood do still visit him and consider him a confidant.

Li recalled when he first started, locally-run general stores were dotted throughout the city.

“Other owners and I shared our techniques in running our businesses, such as where to put the milk in the fridge so that it could be properly cooled,” he said.

When the Post visited Leekeestore, several regulars were drinking with the owner after the shop had closed for the day. A 40-year-old regular said Li’s old-school shop reminded him of his childhood and “a simpler time”.

But as the family business passes onto its third-generation owner, Leekeestore has found a way to stay relevant with today’s consumers. Karen Li Ka-man, the daughter of Li and a graphic designer who studied in London, put out various self-designed household items for sale in the store.

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“My dad gave me half of his store where I can sell some designer items,” she said.

“It first started as my senior year final project. I was thinking of ways to reconstruct a traditional space.”

She said decorating the store in nostalgic items, such as old-fashioned mugs and ceramics, trinkets and postcards gave the shop a more simplistic and practical feel.

“I am personally a collector of nostalgic items,” she said.

“And the store somehow evokes a sense of nostalgia in our customers...It also has a personalised shopping experience.”