The most coveted stalls at Hong Kong’s biggest Lunar New Year market were snapped up for nearly 70 per cent less than last year’s prices, with more than a quarter of wet-goods stalls left unsold on the first day of auctions on Tuesday.
The single highest bid for a fast-food stall at the annual Victoria Park event was HK$202,000, just 7.8 per cent up on its starting price. Last year the same space, near an entrance on Gloucester Road, cost HK$520,000.
Its tenant, who refused to disclose her identity or business details, outbid her rival after 11 rounds of bidding.
The other bidder, Ms Wong, later got a smaller stall at the other end of the park for the opening price of HK$100,390 without any competition.
The bidders decide to join the auction or not based on the social environment and their sales situation
Wong Tak-fat, Food and Environmental Health Department
Planning to sell traditional Chinese cookies there, she said: “I am happy [with the low price].”
The cold reception came after the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department for the first time cancelled the popular tradition of having dry-goods stalls – selling things other than the traditional flowers and fruit – at its 15 fairs and festivals around the city, citing safety concerns.
Officials halved the opening prices for the spots from last year, due to an economic downturn in the city amid anti-government protests which, now in their sixth month, have caused widespread disruption.
The department’s senior superintendent, Wong Tak-fat, noted that about half of the 60 wet-goods stalls, with starting prices of HK$5,440 each, did not receive any bids when they went under the hammer in the morning session.
He expected the lack of dry goods would affect footfall at the fair, which usually attracts hundreds of thousands of shoppers each year.
“The bidders decide to join the auction or not based on the social environment and their sales situation,” he said.
He said the other slots were traded at the starting price or slightly over that, adding that wet-goods stalls had all been rented at the event in recent years.
As the day concluded, about 30 of the 120 wet-goods stalls were left unsold.
The next Lunar New Year markets, slated to run from January 19 to 25, are bracing for weak consumer sentiment, with no end to the ongoing political crisis in sight.
Still, some businesspeople wanted to try their luck.
Ms Cheng, who bid successfully for the third food stall at HK$100,590, HK$200 more than the opening price, expected fewer shoppers at the market than usual.
“I am just giving it a go,” the first-time bidder, who planned to sell cooked food, said.
Lau Hoi-to, a long-time grower specialising in peach blossom, who forked out about HK$22,000 for four wet-goods stalls, was not troubled by the potential decline in footfall.
“Hongkongers will put flowers [in their homes] anyway,” he said. “It’s good luck.”
He said that, based on his experience, people who bought dry goods would not buy flowers at the markets, so he was not worried his business would be too dampened by the changes.
Meanwhile, political groups – which have traditionally sold dry goods such as cushions and board games at the festive markets to raise money and promote their causes – vowed to do something different under the new rules.
Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, slammed the no-dry-goods rule as groundless.
“To Hong Kong, it’s an unreasonable suppression on market cultural activity,” he said.
Tsoi said the alliance was considering selling “flowers of freedom” and white roses, symbols of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 4, 1989.
“If the government suppresses [us] without reason, residents would only have greater dissatisfaction against the government,” he said.
This article Hong Kong’s anti-government protests hit rent prices at popular Lunar New Year markets first appeared on South China Morning Post