A major reshuffle of locally owned galleries is under way in Hong Kong as small-to-medium-sized businesses suddenly find themselves able to afford space in the heart of Hong Kong Island again after nearly two years of unprecedented turmoil in the city. Rossi & Rossi, Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery, Galerie Ora-Ora, 3812 Gallery and Novalis Contemporary Art Design have either signed new leases in the Central/Sheung Wan area or are planning to, with property analysts saying that average commercial rents have gone down in the area by 30 per cent since 2019. Fabio Rossi, owner of Rossi & Rossi – a 6,500-square-foot (600-square-metre) gallery in Wong Chuk Hang, on the south side of Hong Kong Island – is opening a second space on Hollywood Road. The gallery sells both contemporary art and historic Buddhist art, so it makes sense to have a shopfront on the street, which is a famous antiques district, Rossi says. Rossi bought the space in Wong Chuk Hang in 2012 and is one of the most vocal advocates of the new art district in that area. But when he found out that he could rent the street-level shopfront on Hollywood Road for less than half what he expected, he talked it over with his 88-year-old mother Anna Maria, who has just become a permanent resident in Hong Kong. He ended up signing a two-year lease with the family of businessman and antiques collector Peter Fung for the 1,000-square-foot space below their Liang Yi Museum. Kwai Fung Hin Gallery is also setting up a new Central showroom a year after vacating its previous home in the area on Ice House Street. Founder Catherine Kwai Yuk-nin is finalising plans to rent a 3,600-square-foot space in Tai Kwun, the former Hollywood Road police station turned heritage and arts centre. Kwai says the gallery left Central before for two reasons. It failed to reach an agreement with the landlord over costs of maintenance, and insurance companies were charging a premium for any artwork that passed through Central during the 2019 anti-extradition-bill protests. Bizarre sculptures of autistic, non-verbal artist ‘speak for themselves’ For the past year, clients have been redirected to the gallery’s 10,000-square-foot refurbished storage space in Chai Wan, at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island. But now that insurers no longer charge extra for Central, the “very reasonable terms” of Tai Kwun appeal. Local residents have no trouble with going to Chai Wan, Kwai says, but when international collectors come back to Hong Kong, she does not expect them to even know where Chai Wan is. The past two years have seen a number of galleries closing in Central as landlords have generally been slow to adjust rent despite a sharp drop in foot traffic. Ora-Ora, Pearl Lam and Seoul Auction left H Queen’s; Hanart TZ Gallery, Ben Brown Fine Arts and Lehmann Maupin quit the Pedder Building; Edouard Malingue Gallery moved out of 33 Des Voeux Road Central; and Axel Vervoordt left the Entertainment Building. In general, dealers say that the top end of the art trade has not been affected by the economic downturn as much as, say, luxury retail. 3812 Gallery’s co-founder Calvin Hui Kim-lung says his gallery has just rented an extra floor in a commercial building on Central’s Wyndham Street because the business, which has a branch in London, wants to seize this opportunity to expand. Meanwhile, Novalis is keeping its Star Street shop in nearby Wan Chai as well as adding a Hollywood Road address next to the new Rossi & Rossi Gallery. (Ora-Ora will make public its plans to reopen in a few weeks’ time, owner Henrietta Tsui-Leung says.) Not everyone is joining the reverse migration to Central. Edouard Malingue Gallery has decided not to put itself at the mercy of landlords again by purchasing a permanent home in Wan Chai’s Sik On Street (opening later this spring). And both Axel Vervoordt and Ben Brown have settled into much larger, and cheaper, spaces in Wong Chuk Hang.