Taipei flea markets thrive amid downturn
'For NT$200 a day, anyone can have a business': Yongchun market association chairwoman
By Rachel Chan
Central News Agency
Page 4
2009-06-18 12:07 AM
The "for lease" signs springing up on business premises in Taiwan are evidence of how hard enterprises have been hit by the economic downturn in the country. However, the recession has created an opening for at least one group of entrepreneurs in Taipei City.

At two flea markets in Taipei, vendors have seen a boom in sales in the last few months.

One of the markets is in the Tienmu area, which is better known as an enclave for expatriates and the heart of the foreign diplomatic community in Taiwan, rather than a venue for secondhand street bazaars.

Located in the Shilin District on the borders of the Beitou hot spring area and Yangmingshan National Park, Tienmu has typically been a bustling community of exotic shops, upscale department stores and Western style restaurants.

But in recent years, businesses have been moving out of Tienmu to newer commercial areas such as the Xinyi District in downtown Taipei.

Tienmu's response has been to embrace a different kind of business - one that now has the area swinging on weekends.

The Tienmu Marketplace Development Association (TMDA) in July 2007 set up what it called a creative bazaar in the area, and in June 2008 it opened a flea market.

"When Tienmu began to lose its popularity a few years ago, we brainstormed on how to bring it into the limelight again and attract people from other districts in Taipei," TMDA Chairwoman Tang Di told the Central News Agency.

Tang and her associates came up with the idea of a creative bazaar that would primarily give young people an opportunity to showcase their ideas and start their own businesses, and a flea market that would offer the unemployed a chance to make a new start.

Today, the outdoor bazaar and flea market, jointly dubbed "Weekend Tienmu - We Can," have become not only a treasure hunt spot for local residents, but also a tourist attraction for backpackers from Hong Kong and Japan, Tang said.

Since the bazaar and flea market opened on the intersection of Zhongshan North Road and Tienmu East Road, other stalls and shops close by have seen a 30-50 percent growth in business, according to Tang.

An average 30,000 to 50,000 people flock there every weekend, some to buy and others to browse, she said. Added to the mix are a number of underground bands and street performers that liven up the scene.

Huang Shen-chieh, a bartender and part-time vendor at the Tienmu bazaar, said that he began selling secondhand clothes and shoes there after he and his brother were forced to close their organic food store.

The weekend flea market and bazaar started out as fun event for him, Huang said, adding that it is also a way of exercising his social responsibility.

"It is never about money. The main idea is to be environmental friendly and make the best use of everything," he said, as he collected NT$10 from a customer who had picked out a white tank top.

"Secondhand goods gain fresh value when they are sold to new owners," he said. "What's even better is that I get to know all these cool people. This is very good life experience."

Registration for a spot at the bazaar is open every Monday and the fee ranges from NT$100-NT$200, although sometimes there are free places for the underprivileged, Tang said. However, it takes some luck to get a spot, as there are usually 500 people registering, on average, while only 200 places are available for vendors at the market Friday to Sunday, she added.

This enthusiasm for secondhand trade is also evident at the Yongchun Traditional Market in Songshan District, where the second floor is dedicated to a weekend flea market.

Huang Hsiu-yu, chairwoman of the Yongchun Traditional Market Association, said that the space was empty for three years before she came up with the idea in October 2007 to open a flea market there.

It has since grown from five to 180 vendors per week, with many more applicants on the waiting list, Huang said. The number of vendors has increased to full capacity since the economic downturn hit last autumn, she added. "For NT$200 a day, anyone can have his or her own business," Huang said.

The Yongchun Flea Market, which sells mainly secondhand clothes, shoes, household items, used books, body products and accessories, is the only indoor bazaar in Taiwan and that attracts thousands of people every weekend, according to Huang.

"When the economy is down, more people come to the flea market to save money," Huang said. "They will not buy anything unless it is a good deal."

Celine Hu, a tour guide and manager of a travel agency, has been a vendor at the Yongchun flea market for 18 months. She says her bags and clothes, mostly new, are usually sold at 50-60 percent off of the original price.

Hu said that although the flea market venture is a hobby and not her primary source of income, she strives to provide a good service.

"Everything, even if secondhand, could still be of value to someone," Hu said. "I want to show the best of what I have and satisfy my customers because I take this part-time work seriously."

Chen Ting-ju, a post-graduate student, who bought a second hand Louis Vuitton bag at the market for NT$2,000, agreed that "one person's junk could be another's treasure."

As the squeeze continues from the economic downturn, Huang said, people who are thinking of starting their own business need to have the right mindset, and the Yongchun flea market might be a good testing ground.

"Sometimes there is a big gap between reality and a person's ideals," she said. "Those who have lost their jobs or who have just graduated from school and are interested in starting a business can try here first."

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