Former printer Xu Weiqing was quick to spot a gap in the market and opened a small store selling foreign-brand liquor in the increasingly popular yet traditional area of Jiaodaokou, in the heart of Beijing. With the Olympics approaching he predicted the rising number of foreigners moving to the capital would have a growing influence on young Chinese drinkers - and he has been proved right, with a mostly local clientele taking the Gordon's and Captain Morgan's from his shelves.
When did you open your shop?
Two years ago in July. My wife was ill, so we needed a business we could operate from home, so we bought these premises and live just the other side of the wall.
Why did you decide to sell foreign-brand alcohol?
Because it's getting so popular now, and I thought a shop selling it in this area would do well. I noticed that more and more foreigners were moving to the Jiaodaokou area and so I thought they would definitely need somewhere local to buy their drink. I didn't want to open a bar - so this was the next best thing.
Why is it so popular now?
It started in the 1980s, which were exciting times because of the opening-up and reform policies. Young people like me started to have a night life, where before we just wouldn't go out in the evening. Foreigners started coming, and we watched what they did. We wanted to copy them. Discos started opening - I remember the first one, in Xinjiekou. Since then, foreign goods have steadily grown in popularity, as have our incomes. For young people they are rising still, and they can afford to buy the more expensive foreign brands.
What particular brands and drinks do they buy?
Mainly gin, Chivas Regal and vodka - they aren't so keen on foreign wines. Chinese people still like sweeter tastes, and aren't used to the dry taste of foreign wine, though they will drink Chinese wines.
How far do you think the Olympics have affected what the youngsters drink?
Once it was decided that the Olympics would be held in Beijing, more foreigners came here to work and started influencing Chinese tastes more and more. We are used to foreigners now. We don't stare at them as we used to, but we still follow them in terms of what they wear, what they drink, and so on.
Do you think they would be changing their drinking habits so much were it not for the Olympics?
Impossible. There's no way the door would be open as much to influence.
When it comes to increased alcohol consumption among youngsters, is it in fact a good thing?
Foreign alcohol is better than what we used to drink - baijiu (Chinese rice wine) can be as much as 60 per cent proof. Much stronger than foreign wines. And we have a sign up in this shop that says we won't sell liquor or cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18. So it's not a bad thing.
Do you sell any Chinese liquor?
Oh yes, of course. We have a whole case of baijiu, the most expensive is 8,000 yuan a bottle. We don't sell much of that.
And you see your business carrying on after the Olympics?
Yes, but even if we did have to sell up I'm sure we'd have no problem finding a buyer.