By Jessie Pang
The Millennial Intel In This Story:
-The Central’s Graham Street Market has been in operation for 140 years.
-It has survived Japanese Occupation and decades of urban development but is now in danger of closing because its vendors are being priced out.
– The status of the market has raised questions about the survival of historical significant businesses in the ever modernizing Hong Kong.
It seems nothing has happened.
The Central’s Graham Street Market is still in operation normally ten months after the rumor that “Yesterday was its last day in operation.”
However, the disturbing noise coming from the adjacent construction field indicates that the wet market has been struggling against the city’s redevelopment plan.
The market has survived Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong and previous rounds of urban development for 140 years.
However, the redevelopment plan announced in 2007 by the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) has put it into the edge of sword.
“We are afraid that Graham Street will become another Lee Tung Street which have utterly been changed and had no relations with her history,” the spokesperson of Central and Western Concern Group Law Ngar-ning said. “We have discovered three heritage sites, which are believed to be built in late-19th century, within the Graham Street Market area, but they are not reported by the URA. They become extremely vulnerable and may be destroyed at any time.”
Concerns have arisen not only because of the historical values of the street market, but also the survival and relocation of those old residents.
“Although URA guarantees you will be able to find all daily necessities in the new market, the price will rise and the market won’t be as comprehensive as the original one,” said a 60-year-old property agent Mr Lai.
“Only 20 tenants can be relocated in the new market and the rent will be too expensive for them. It’s about $10,000 per inch but each shop is about 300 inches big.”
Currently, 11 vendors are willing to join the Local Fresh Food Shop Arrangement after the redevelopment.
They will have the priority to rent shop spaces at a retail block being built.
But they will have to give up ex-gratia business allowance worth about tens of thousands of dollars and are required to pay rent at market prices, according to the URA spokesman.
“What I say is useless. Nobody would bother listening to poor people like us,” Song Yin-wai, a 65-year-old stall owner said. “I don’t even know whether I would be relocated or not.”
Her stall named Marilyn mainly sells small electronic gadgets and women’s bags. Some small lights are switched on all the time to attract customers.
“I have been running this stall for more than ten years. In the past, it was easier to make profits. But now, fewer people are willing to stop by because of the ongoing construction sites and road maintenance,” Song said. “Sometimes the income is not even enough to cover the rent. I have lost around $2,000 for this month.”
Meanwhile, some remains positive towards the redevelopment plan.
“The redevelopment plan won’t affect me as my stall is not within the redevelopment area and won’t be relocated. Actually, it will attract more people to stop by and buy desserts from me,” Wong Tai-jie, a 70-year-old Chinese dessert stall owner said.
“The development plan is good for the community since the streets will become wider, safer, tidier and more hygienic,” said Wong Tze-nin, 24, one of the construction workers, “what’s more, two new residential buildings will also be built alongside the new commercial area.”
According to the URA website, the redevelopment plans will provide 293 residential flats and a total of 44,575 square meter commercial area. It will also include new community facilities for the public and more open space to serve as a green lung for the city.
Over the years, the URA has also taken various measures to maintain the vibrancy of the street market, such as market promotional campaigns, installing electric meters for stall operators and redesigning safer and user-friendlier stalls.
Although the future of Graham Street remains uncertain, the bargaining noise between the shopkeepers and residents tells you life goes on in spite of all the circumstances.
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Photo Credits: Jessie Pang