The Cheung Kee Grocery Store has been selling preserved vegetables, eggs, rice, beans and soya sauce at 5 Canal Road East for more than 40 years. But after this month, the shop will close its doors, the latest victim of soaring rents in Causeway Bay.
The shop is just around the corner from Russell Street, the most expensive retail strip in the world and home to Times Square. The owner of the premises, who bought the property for HK$350,000 in 1975, sold it for HK$138 million in March last year, an almost 400-fold increase in 37 years. The new owner is now looking for a tenant who can pay a lot more than the existing monthly rental of HK$150,000.
The fate of Cheung Kee Grocery is the latest bad news for the old-fashioned shops increasingly being replaced by luxury retailers in Causeway Bay. The retail landscape has changed, as international brands rush into the district to capture the increasing number of wealthy mainland shoppers in the city. When the South China Morning Post moved its office to Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, just four years ago, the area still had the feel of a real neighbourhood. Most things could be found within a few blocks of the office. There was Leighton Bakery in Matheson Street, known for its egg tarts and fried egg with ham buns, and a popular Gourmet Coffee shop in Hysan Avenue which sold sandwiches with a nice cup of coffee for just HK$33. There was an old-fashioned cha chaan teng (tea restaurant), Lan Fong, on Leighton Road, which sold traditional "milky tea" and Hong Kong-style spaghetti, and an Indonesian restaurant which sold noodles and rice.
Last month, the owner of Lee Yuen Congee Noodles closed down the restaurant after more than four decades at 539 Lockhart Road, after the rent was more than doubled to HK$600,000 a month.
While the number of restaurants dropped, other favourites also disappeared. I was in a daze of disappointment when a customised leather goods store in Yiu Wah Street, a few blocks away from Times Square, closed at the end of last month, after eight years.
"Going out of business, everything must go, 50 per cent off" have become familiar signs in the Causeway Bay neighbourhood.
It is understandable landlords will look for new tenants willing to pay two to four times more rent than they were getting before, but there are obvious signs of demand and supply imbalance here, and they are getting worse. Almost every available retail space in the area is being occupied by luxury chains such as jewellery shops Chow Sang Sang and Emperor.
While the situation continues, small retailers and restaurant operators have to find new ways to survive, such as longer working hours and moving to upper floor space. Property Post, which publishes every Wednesday, will have a full report tomorrow on smaller retailers' strategies amid soaring rents.