The capital's 20-year-old Xiushui Jie, also known as the Silk Market, is expected to close next month due to safety considerations.
A government notice posted Monday at the south end of the 500-meter-long pedestrian street states that all 400-plus vendors will have to move out of the market between January 6 and January 10 next year.
Many vendors told China Daily that the only thing they can do is to sell as many goods as they can before then.
Beside the government notice are posted several objections to the closure written by university professors. They urge the local government to reconsider the move and protect the interests of private business people.
Debate surrounding the closure was stirred up in May when peddlers were told the bustling outdoor market was being closed because the three-meter-wide street is susceptible to flash fires.
A five-story building, known as the New Silk Alley Market, is being built nearby and will replace the old market.
The Jianwai Subdistrict Office of Chaoyang District, which has jurisdiction over the market, justified its closure by saying that during rush hour the street is so busy that fire engines would not be able to get to a fire if one broke out in the market.
In addition, the office says, the vendors hawking their products and the massive number of shoppers have greatly disrupted the lives of local residents.
However, peddlers argue that rental fees at the new mall are too high and some experts say the market would lose its unique flavor and prosperity if it is moved to the new building.
In a stall rental auction for the New Silk Alley Market held in late June, the price of renting a five square-meter stall for five years reached 3.95 million yuan (US$478,000).
This means a vendor must earn more than 790,000 yuan (US$95,500) after tax a year just to cover the rent, which is unthinkable to most vendors whose net profit per month is roughly 10,000 yuan (US$1,200), said a local media report.
A recently posted notice issued by the developer of the new building states vendors from the old market would enjoy many preferential policies if they rent booths at the new mall.
The favorable policies include exemption from a one-year property management fee, a discount of 50 per cent from the monthly rental charge, a reduction of 50,000 yuan (US$6,000) of the admission fee, and financial guarantees for bank loans.
"We have not decided yet whether to move to the new building or find another place. We will wait and see," said a young vendor.
The new building, scheduled to be completed by year's end, covers 28,000 square meters with a capacity of over 1,000 stalls, more than double the number in the outdoor market.
(China Daily December 21, 2004)