Chungking Mansions feeling pinch

Shopfronts lining the Chungking Mansions arcade on Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, are mostly vacant with few shoppers evident.
It is the most severe business slump ever seen by electronics goods retailer Bob Kripalani, who opened Bob Electronics there 25 years ago. Business was so good for many years he says he did not have time to eat lunch.
He is among dozens of ­retailers scattered throughout the iconic 55-year-old building near the tip of Kowloon. It is a trading ­ecosystem which for nearly four decades has hosted businesses predominantly owned by ethnic minorities, such as Africans, Indians and ­Pakistanis. But now, retailers are struggling, blaming loiterers and tightening visa restrictions on certain countries.
“Eight years ago my rent was HK$35,000 [US$4512] a month. Now it is only HK$7700, but it is still difficult to cover the rent because business is so bad,”­ says ­Kripalani.
At one time, Chungking Mansions had nearly 100 per cent occupancy rates, with bidding wars common for trading space. Now about 40 per cent of shops on the first floor are empty.
Munisons owner Mahmood Sheik says that local Indian customers nowadays are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with shopping in Chungking Mansions with loitering “asylum seekers” that stare at them and cause occasional fights. He says families rarely visit the building together any more.
Amsua Trading Company owner Alyas Ahmad, who has had his shop at Chungking Mansions for 23 years, blames the fall in trade on the Hong Kong Immigration Department’s increased scrutiny of African travellers. Kripalani agrees, saying that fewer African visitors has led many China-made mobile phone shops to vacate.
However, an Immigration Department spokesman says Hong Kong continues to maintain an “open visa policy”.
To try to keep his business afloat, Ahmad has started selling items outside his usual stock of electronics and watches, such as cooking oil, olives and packaged milk. This reflects the shift of Chungking Mansions from a shopping arcade into an ethnic food bazaar.

You have 7 articles remaining. Unlock 15 free articles a month, it’s free.