Beijing's old Silk Alley was one of the most popular destinations for visitors, famous for its silk products and fashionable fake designer clothes at cut-rate prices. The crowded, open-air market closed amid controversy in January this year, but was resurrected on Saturday in a brand-new building.
About 50,000 people visited the five-story, 28,000-square-meter New Silk Alley on opening day. The building, located just east of the old site in the city's embassy district, houses about 1,500 stalls.
"It's really a dazzling world," said Erik Sjobeck from Sweden, who has been in Beijing for a few months studying at a local university.
Erik and his friends found some "good bargains" during their half an hour in the market. Erik spent 40 yuan (US$5) on a T-shirt, but was not entirely happy with the changes.
"To be frank, I prefer the old venue in the open air," he said.
Li Hong, a boutique seller renting a glitzy booth on the first floor, told China Daily that many people came to sightsee and only a few to shop.
The monthly rent for a booth ranges from 3,000 yuan (US$360) to 40,000 yuan (US$4,800), depending on its location.
"People are flooding in thanks to the weekend and the opening day," Li said. But Li added that it was still too early to predict business performance over the longer term.
Ding Xiao is a shoe salesman from east China's Anhui Province. He said that by 4:30 PM he had sold out of several products. Nevertheless, he is concerned about the arrival of new competition now that booth capacity is nearly triple that of the old site.
"I have to make more effort to expand supply channels if I'm going to do better than others," Ding said.
Zhang Yongping, the owner of the building, said the introduction of more vendors from different places together with a surge of foreign tourists shows the internationalization of the street.
The original Silk Alley market opened in 1982, when a few Beijingers began selling clothes there. The market got its name in 1985 when more and more vendors began to sell traditional Chinese silk products and crafts.
By 1987, foreign tourists were flocking to the site, attracted by the reasonably priced silk goods.
In 1995, bootleg copies of famous international brands began to show up. "Fake brands with good quality is what Silk Alley was famous for, but we are taking measures to curb that," Zhang said.
The city's Jianwai Subdistrict Office of Chaoyang District first notified vendors in May 2004 that the bustling outdoor market was being closed because the three-meter-wide street was susceptible to flash fires and lacked proper firefighting facilities.
The formal order to close was issued last December and the vendors began moving out on January 6.
The New Silk Alley Market was originally scheduled to open in January.
(China Daily, China.org.cn March 21, 2005)