Hong Kong is usually voted the freest market in the world by some thinktank. Here’s an article in the SCMP today. A lucky few are getting rich from this. The majority are not.
The real cost is that Hong Kong is filling up with stores operated by chains and conglomerations. Independent, so called “mom and pop shops,” are disappearing from our landscape. And of course the massive, unchecked rise in rents and real estate prices means that the choices for most of HK’s residents are dwindling down.
Food lovers suffered the bitter taste of disappointment yesterday when two more much-loved culinary mainstays in the city closed their doors.
Devoted customers of Leighton Bakery’s store on Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, munched on its delectable egg tarts and sausage buns for the last time yesterday as owner Lam Shek-yam closed his store to cash in on the city’s property boom
Taking a break from the lunchtime rush, which saw crowds snaking around the block for a final snack, Lam said it was with a heavy heart that he shut down the bakery, which has been his place of work for the last 28 years.
Resting in a seat next to the drinks counter, Lam, who started baking at the age of 12, said: “A lot of customers came this week to say goodbye.”
The store has long been a favourite with shoppers and office workers grabbing a bite for lunch or a quick breakfast. Lam says he has sold the shop for HK$140 million – a huge profit on the HK$13 million he paid to buy the site in 1996.
Customers will now have to go a little further afield to the bakery’s sister outlet on Leighton Road.
A few blocks away, restaurateur Tai Chung pulled down the shutters on Lan Fong, a cha chaan teng, or Hong Kong-style cafe.
He has fallen victim to the cut-throat property market in Causeway Bay, one of the most expensive places in the world to rent retail space. He paid just HK$19,000 per month for the premises when he opened his business in 1987, but is now paying HK$80,000.
He was given his marching orders after negotiations on a new lease broke down in March.
Tai, who still runs the original Lan Fong on Jaffe Road, Wan Chai, would not disclose the rent he was asked to pay but said that even if he had offered double the previous figure, he would not have kept the lease.
“We just couldn’t work it out,” he said last night.
He hopes to open another Lan Fong in Causeway Bay and is scouting for a new venue.
It’s a familiar story in Causeway Bay, where last month a sock retailer was forced to become a street hawker after the rent on her 250 sq ft shop was doubled from HK$70,000 to HK$150,000 and the site of a small noodle shop went on the market for HK$180 million in April – a year after it was sold for HK$100 million.
Indonesian restaurant 1968 closed its main Causeway Bay location when rents rose last year, while the UA Cinema chain was ousted from Times Square, apparently to accommodate a luxury retailer.
Japanese restaurant Wallmann Market, near the new Best Western hotel on Canal Road West, closed in August after the landlord raised the monthly rent to HK$180,000 from HK$85,000. The 3,000 sq ft Nam Ah Restaurant, also on Leighton Road, closed in November after its landlord increased its rent to HK$360,000 from HK$255,000.
The area around Times Square, a popular spot for rich mainland tourists, has seen a huge influx of luxury brands in recent years, while analysts believe the opening of the massive Hysan Place shopping and office complex will push rents up further.
Really, you can’t blame Lam for cashing in. If I could get $140 million on $13 million, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And some of these businesses that relocate due to rising rents manage to thrive in their new locations. But these seem to be the exceptions to the rule.
Came across this in another HK blog last night. I guess there are some out there who believe this.
Fortunately, in the fifteen years since the Handover, Hong Kong has thrived in its status as a special administrative region of China, tapping both worlds to occupy an exciting and unique position.
I’m guessing that position is horizontal.
This is also in the SCMP today:
Almost two-thirds of Hongkongers and long-term residents think the city has become a worse place since the handover, a poll for the Sunday Morning Post shows.
It also found rising dissatisfaction at slow progress towards democracy and a growing feeling that Beijing has failed to implement the principle of “one country, two systems”.
Just 16.8 per cent of those questioned by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme believe the city has become a better place since the end of British colonial rule, down from 39.9 per cent in a similar survey in 2007.
The figures are based on the opinions of 883 people born in Hong Kong, or who moved to the city before the 1997 handover.
Almost four times as many people, 63.8 per cent, believe the city is worse off, 27.7 percentage points higher than in the 2007 poll.
Programme director Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu says the figures show a “big switch in public sentiment” and paint a gloomier picture than found five years ago.
“Probably [it was] because 2007 was the time when Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was still fresh in his position as chief executive and enjoyed good popularity, while 2012 is a time when both Donald Tsang and [his successor] Leung Chun-ying … are both facing big trouble,” Chung said.
Tsang faced a string of scandals in his last few months in office for accepting travel and a cheap deal on a retirement flat from his tycoon friends and staying in luxury rooms overseas while on government business. He was also criticised for failing to tackle the wealth gap and high property prices. Leung’s integrity was also challenged after it was revealed that he had six illegal structures at his house on The Peak.
Chung said “the public sentiment is significantly worse than that of mid-1997, but is much better than that of mid-2003″ – the year of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak and massive protests against a plan to introduce controversial national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law.
In the latest survey, a third of Hongkongers said “one country, two systems” had failed, up from 13.3 per cent in 2007. Those who said it had succeeded fell by almost half, from 62 per cent to 38 per cent.
More people are now dissatisfied by the city’s progress towards democratisation than are dissatisfied, the reverse of the 2007 poll.
The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Given that this is the 15th anniversary of the return of HK to China, Chinese President Hu Jintao is visiting. Barricades have been erected all over Wanchai and Admiralty to prevent people from getting anywhere near him. Yesterday, a reporter from HK newspaper Apple Daily “shouted” a question. “President Hu, the people of Hong Kong want the truth behind June 4 to be revealed, do you know this?”
The reporter was immediately taken by a policeman to a stairwell where he was questioned for 15 minutes and eventually reprimanded.
“He told me that my yelling was breaking the rules,” said the reporter.
President Hu Jintao issued a clarion call for unity as he met Hong Kong’s business and political elite behind a tight ring of security – but outside, hundreds of protesters demanded democracy and transparency over the death of dissident Li Wangyang . They clashed with police, who responded with pepper spray.
[Hu Jintao] praised the contribution of outgoing leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa for “developing the economy in a stable way, improving people’s livelihoods continuously, ensuring orderly democratic progress, and maintaining social harmony and stability” in the 15 years since the handover.
I guess he’s never heard of the Gini Coefficient.
Happy 15th anniversary, Hong Kong!