Bid farewells to Cloth Hawker Bazaar
By Mandy Tsui and David Tam
A landmark fabric wholesale market in Sham Shui Po will lose its unique character if traders are forced to move to a space they must share with fresh vegetables and meat, stall holders said.
The Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar, which has nearly 190 stalls trading in thousands of meters of fabrics, is located at the junction of Yen Chow Street and Lai Chi Kok Road, opposite the Sham Shui Po Police Station. It has been a major fabric market in Hong Kong since the 1970s and is regarded as an institution by the fashion industry.
But, since 2000, the government has been planning to relocate this distinctive bazaar to the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market, a place combined with many fresh goods stalls.
The relocation decision is due to the poor regulation of the Yen Chow Bazaar, which is divided into rectangular grids but without any clear signage for each stall.
Vendors stack rolls of cloth high above eye-level, which causes a cramped and hot environment that can reach 35.3 degrees Celsius in summer.
“Safety problems are the key factor for the government to relocate them,” said Jimmy Kwok Chun Wah, chairman of the Sham Shui Po District Council. “The fire safety equipment is significantly below standard. If a fire breaks out, it will definitely spread quickly because of the low height clearance between the floor and ceiling and densely- packed rolls of fabric.” The new site in the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market is two streets away from the bazaar and has more modern facilities such as air- conditioners.
But, a fabric vendor Mr. Chan Yu Tung who has been working in the Yen Chow bazaar for 33 years, said stalls at the new site, which were four to six feet by width, were far too small for their industry.
“I may have to rent a few more stalls, soIcan store all my fabric. This will increase my operation costs by at least $4,000 every year. To be honest, I cannot afford it,” Chan said. “In future, maybe I will become an electronic appliance retailer at Ap Liu Street rather than a fabric seller.” Kwok acknowledged the conflict between the government and the vendors in the fabric bazaar over the relocation plan.
He said, in these cases,the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department would provide compensation as a solution. But, the fabric vendors have not yet started to discuss the compensation plan with the government. The department has only sent out staff to monitor the hawker bazaar.
“The government plans to initially give the fabric vendors relocation subsidies or a rent allowance in order to attract them to move to the new market. If they do so, this is beneficial to the community,” Kwok said.
But there are other reasons why fabric vendors are reluctant to relocate. They say their home-like environment cannot be replaced and is very unique.
Ho Mei Ling, a second- generation vendor who has worked in the bazaar since 1997, said their stalls should be retained because it would preserve a unique industry and culture.
“Just like Temple Street or Tung Choi Street, this hawker bazaar is a local feature of Hong Kong, and that is the reason why this place should be preserved,” Ho said.
“The special bond between customers and sellers are strong here because we have known each other for many years, not many retailers can build up such relationships.”
Ho said that though the facilities in the new site were more advanced, the intimacy and close interaction between people could not be replaced. She added she would quit the industry if the government forced her to move. A fashion and textile student Wong Hoi Kiu who is a regular customer described the bazaar as a landmark for fashion designers. She said it would lose its unique qualities if the fabric vendors were packed into a market full of vegetables and meat.
Another regular customer Mrs Connie Ip (above) said it was a pity the bazaar would be relocated since she had regularly visited this place for more than 20 years.
Kwok said the government and the vendors could not reach a consensus, so the relocation plan had been delayed for 13 years.