18 Mar Help Hong Kong’s Small business Survive the Coronavirus; Spend Locally to Save Mom-and-Pop Shops
(leader image by Gary Jones, from the book ‘Sunset Survivors’)
Months of protests have taken their toll and the coronavirus has made business come to a standstill. Locals stopped spending and tourists stopped coming. As foot traffic came to a standstill, shutters came down in the city. More and more shops, cafés and restaurants in Hong Kong are closing and laying off staff. The famous Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant is just one of the many victims of the coronavirus pandemic. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues to spread across the world, the continued lack of visitors and plummet in confidence is proving to be fatal for many of the city’s Mom-and-Pop shops. While the Hong Kong government has offered hard-hit industries with a relief package, the measures may be too little and too late for small businesses that have no other lifeline. They may be forced to shut down something that took generations to build.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak could also cause Hong Kong’s ‘Sunset Survivors’ — traditional tradesmen and women who are the last of their kind — to close up shop even sooner than expected. Many, if not most, of these Sunset Survivors‘ stories are told in an immersive book penned by Lindsay Varty. the book covers a myriad of curious professions that are quickly falling into obscurity.
Bing Kee Copperware’s latest creation: Aladdin’s magic lamp (left), Mrs Ho in front of her shop, Lee Wo Steelyard. Photos by Gary Jones, from the book ‘Sunset Survivors’
Yau Ma Tei-based shopowners Mrs Ho and the Choi brothers are three of the people featured in the book. The former heads Lee Wo Steelyard, a shop that has been selling traditional Chinese scales for over 90 (!) years. Mrs Ho wishes to continue to work and run the shop for as long as possible because it’s the last memory of her father, whom she loved and respected very much. The latter, Luk Shu Choi and Luk Keung Choi, run Bing Kee Copperware, the only remaining coppersmith in Hong Kong. The shop has been producing hand-hammered copperware for homes, restaurants, shops and hotels since 1940. It’s no rocket science that fewer travellers and people on the streets mean fewer purchases from these twilight businesses: after all, a copper trinket makes for a great gift for friends back home, but it’s not a bare necessity to run outside for, like, let’s say, a roll of toilet paper. Once these businesses are gone, however, they are gone forever, taking decades of history and heritage with them.
Cheung Fat Noodles in Sham Shui Po, one of the few remaining licensed dai pai dongs in town
And what about the couple that runs the small corner side bing sutt? The uncle who sells rice at his pocket-sized store, or the auntie who sells flowers? During challenging times like this, each and every one of us can — and should — make a difference, no matter how big or small. There are always things you can do to help independent local shopowners and twilight industries get through this pandemic without compromising public health and safety. Take precautions as advised by public health authorities, stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak and make your decisions based on fact, not fear.
Kwan Kee Store in Sham Shui Po, one of the oldest granny-style sweet shops
So, what can you do to help Hong Kong’s small businesses survive the coronavirus?
- It’s simple! Try to buy as many bare necessities and fun extras from small, local businesses; get a toy for your kids at that cupboard-sized convenience store, and while you are at it, get some snacks for yourself.
- Grab your food to go at your favourite family-run cha chaan teng or dai pai dong. Bring your own boxes and cups if necessary.
- Download our 100% free storytelling app&map to find your way to local, small businesses to support in Hong Kong (and beyond!) as efficiently and fun as possible. The latest addition to the Hong Kong app is the ‘Sunset Survivors’ walking route in Yau Ma Tei, in collaboration with Lindsay Varty, the author of the aforementioned book of the same name. Our walking route will bring you to five of the people and the shops featured in her book. Pay them a visit, especially now, and please support them in any way you can.
- (Re)discover the beauty of your own neighbourhood. Yes, times are tough; even though Hong Kong’s containment strategy seems to work so far, it has come at a high cost. Now is the time to avoid non-essential air travel, slow down and be a tourist in our own city instead. We bet there are plenty of things around you that you have never noticed before! Talk to your neighbours, ask them where they like to go to eat and play, finally visit that little shop you always pass by, take pictures of people and sights you normally take for granted… you will see your hood in a new light!
- Spread the word! Share our app and this article with your friends, family, colleagues and neighbours or encourage them to shop locally and responsibly in other ways.
Every little bit helps! While taking care of yourself, don’t forget to take care of others, too. Let’s continue to celebrate Hong Kong’s local culture, and let’s not forget the foundations on which this city was built.
Ready to explore your hood?
Bring us with you! Our 100% free travel app features walking itineraries in Hong Kong and beyond, insider secrets and background stories, all handcrafted by locals! Click here to download the app for iOS, and here to get the Android version.
Want to know more about Hong Kong’s ‘Sunset Survivors’?
Grab Lindsay’s beautiful book to learn all about the city’s fading trades — from fortune telling to face threading — through candid interviews and little-known facts, accompanied by striking pictures taken by photographer Gary Jones. Buy it here.
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Featuring hidden gems, popular local hotspots and surprising sites in neighbourhoods across Asia, our locally curated guides are designed for you to #getlostwithoutgettinglost. More than that, our app and maps help you to ‘travel good’ by spending your money locally and responsibly.