That dynamic couple 7-Eleven and their many progeny have largely taken over from the mom ’n’ pop stores – 街坊士多 (gaai fong si do) – that used to be a feature of every self-respecting Hong Kong ’hood and which provided not just drinks, snacks and an earful of local gossip, but a free telephone, too. You didn’t even need to ask: just walk in, pick up the handset (google that if you need to) and dial. Sure, everyone’s got their own mobile wedged into their ear nowadays, so who needs the Dings’ clunky old jellybones? The thing is, it was all part of what made Hong Kong a community rather than a bland metropolis. As the city grows, small-time traders are edged out, which in turn – lamentably – diminishes its character. The photocopy man who used to perch at the bottom of D’Aguilar Street vanished some years back, and the trio of shoeshine boys (two aged males and one female, in point of fact) who plied their remarkably useful trade in Theatre Lane have likewise disappeared. The same goes for the Wo On Lane barber, though a colleague on Shing Wong Street, in snipping distance of Hollywood Road’s trendy eateries and antique emporia, has yet to quit. The Poor Man’s Nightclub – a merry, largely unregulated outdoor cooked food market that flourished near the Hong Kong-Macau ferry terminal up until the 1980s – proved no match for the government’s grand development plans. There are many more examples. Further away from the centre, some solo street traders are still hanging on. A grizzled cobbler shelters beneath the footbridge leading to Quarry Bay’s library, where he is sometimes joined by a fellow ancient armed with scissors, mirror, stool and an air of expectancy. Come autumn, chestnut fryers do a roaring trade with the wafting aromas of singed charcoal carrying out their marketing for them, while an itinerant knife grinder puts in an occasional appearance. Taken together, they make a healthy counterpoint to the anonymous glass office towers where so many potential customers are incarcerated for rather longer than nine to five. Small traders need to be encouraged to thrive, rather than shouldered aside or – dread word – regulated like the government’s much ballyhooed food-truck scheme, with its lack of any attraction, or success. In short, mom ’n’ pops and their coevals are one of the mainstays of a city’s personality. We should look after them.