City Weekend

Hong Kong shops stock retro goods to feed nostalgia-hungry collectors

Owner of Chu Wing Kee in Sheung Wan sources rare products for customers, while toy brand Tiny creates miniatures of traditional street scenes in city

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 May, 2017, 9:32am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 May, 2017, 1:38pm

For collectors of Hong Kong nostalgia, Chu Wing Kee in Possession Street, Sheung Wan, is a treasure trove.

The wholesale shop stocks a multitude of goods, many of which hark back to a bygone era, even if they are sometimes modern imitations of the originals. Owner Perry Chu Yiu-cheong, who inherited the business that his street hawker father set up in 1959, often sources unusual products for customers when he does not have them in stock.

Watch: How a store that still sells kerosene stoves became a treasure trove of the community

Chu, 53, showed the Post around his store this week, where old-fashioned crockery, furniture and various homewares line the shelves and cover almost every inch of the floor.

He said he enjoyed collecting products which consumers might struggle to find elsewhere.

“We are always looking for rare things,” he said. “I like the old style. Everything in supermarkets and malls is so similar, but we have some handmade products, such as pottery, which is shipped here from the mainland. We can promise our customers that our products are of good quality and we can show them how to use them. We are not just looking to make money – we want to help people.”

We are not just looking to make money – we want to help people
Perry Chu Yiu-cheong, store owner

Chu, whose 16-year-old son Peter could eventually take over the business, said his retro products had a wide appeal.

“Some products are old but they are still useful, especially for old people,” he said. “And young people also like to come to us to buy things because they want something special, perhaps to give as a present to their friends. Many of our products have a unique style, not like most modern things, which are often copies.”

Watch: 360 degree view of Chu Wing Kee

Meanwhile, another retailer capitalising on the retro passion is Tiny, a Hong Kong brand of toys and models created by ToyEast in 2013. The brand, which has three stores in the city, creates miniatures of traditional Hong Kong street scenes, including elements such as road signs, food stalls and transport. Last year, it was authorised by Star Ferry, bus company KMB and the Peak Tram to manufacture their collectibles. Gary Hui, one of the company’s marketing assistants, said the products had become particularly popular in recent years because customers increasingly had a sense that “Hong Kong culture was important to them” due to the rising influence of the mainland.

“We are trying to do something special to represent Hong Kong culture,” he said. “We do not want [the mainland] to erode that. Many people will therefore feel a need to stand up for their culture.”

Hui said this year the company was focusing on creating products which would enable customers to create their own Hong Kong street scenes using models of iconic buildings and transport.

“We have a wide range of customers – many of them are particularly interested in transport, such as buses,” he said. “Tourists to Hong Kong too also like the transport here. Our biggest markets outside Hong Kong are Taiwan and Singapore.”

Assistant professor of marketing Tak Huang Zhongqiang at the University of Hong Kong said retailers were wise to take this softer approach in the current economic climate, by appealing to consumers with an emotive journey through the past.

“This kind of marketing strategy is very convenient to advertisers and marketers,” he said, because they can appeal to consumers efficiently and effectively by using the products.

“[Meanwhile] consumers also wouldn’t feel like they are being forced to buy something.”