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Old stores and places we wish still existed in Hong Kong

Businesses and places of yesteryear that we wish were still around

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
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It's no secret that Hong Kong is a brutal place for businesses. We've all seen the turnover rate, witnessed promising new restaurants appear and disappear within the same quarter, and felt the sting of watching small, independent stores suddenly vanish. Even some of the city's largest and seemingly invincible businesses topple every once in a while. Here are some businesses and places – both currently disappearing and long gone – that we miss for one reason or another. By Ethan Lam

RECOMMENDED: Reminisce more about the old days and learn more about Hong Kong's past at these historical streets in Hong Kong.

Old stores and places we wish still existed in Hong Kong

Bootleg DVD/CD Stores
Photograph: Ethan Lam

Bootleg DVD/CD Stores

In the days before streaming and simultaneous releases, piracy was pretty common in Hong Kong. After all, how the hell else were you going to get your hands on the latest overseas TV shows, movies, and music? Lord knows you weren’t ever going to fork over hundreds of dollars for copies from HMV like some sort of chump. These stores were absolute godsends back then, offering up popular media from around the world for dirt cheap. Although the quality of the products was often dubious, it was hard to argue with those prices. There was nothing quite like the feeling of those flimsy cardboard DVD cases in your hands.

Years of crackdowns on piracy by the authorities (remember this iconic pre-movie ad?), alongside the rise of streaming platforms like Spotify, Netflix, and iQiYi have long rendered these shops obsolete, which explains why they’re becoming increasingly uncommon. The few remaining ones now sell (mostly) official discs at fair prices, making them great places to legally pick up older media that aren't readily available online.

California Fitness
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikicommons/WiNG

California Fitness

There were definitely better fitness centres to become a member of, but California Fitness was, at one point, undoubtedly the biggest and most iconic chain of gyms in the city, sporting a number of spacious branches all over Hong Kong. Their bright and loud advertising was so delightfully 90s, and always caught your eye wherever you went. Long-term and medium-term memberships were relatively affordable in their earlier days, and their centres became places where members could relax even if they weren't exercising – a private club of sorts. 

What led to their failure were those aforementioned shady business practices. They became infamous for their aggressive sales tactics in their later years, with the consumer council even going so far as to publicly name and shame them in 2016. The cracks in the company had long been showing, and all branches closed their doors just months later. Their closure was undeniably for the best, but part of us still misses them. Luckily, it's still easy to find a gym – with far less predatory business practices – in the city. 

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Daimaru
Photograph: Courtesy Frapper

Daimaru

For a long time, Sogo, Aeon, and Apita weren’t the only Japanese department stores in Hong Kong. The city used to have these shops but most have since disappeared, inevitably falling victim to rising rents. Daimaru was one such store and was actually the very first one to open in the city, setting up shop in Causeway Bay back in 1960.

It’s hard to imagine a time when Hongkongers weren’t in a love affair with Japanese food, but in the 60s, that was just the case. And while their prices were well out of reach for ordinary Hongkongers, the food offered by the department store’s supermarket and restaurants laid the foundation for the later success of Japanese cuisine in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, Daimaru closed down in 1998 amid the Asian financial crisis.

Dymocks
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikicommons/Fomukimai

Dymocks

Dymocks used to operate Hong Kong’s eponymous leading English-language bookstores, and it’s hard to put the finger on what caused the business to fail. Did Hongkongers grow to hate reading? Arguably not, as evidenced by the plethora of successful book stores that have either outlived Dymocks or opened in the wake of their demise. Did eBooks take over? Ask yourself if you know more than two people who own – and frequently use – Kindles. 

Whatever it was, Dymocks became increasingly unable to afford rent, leading to the closure of three stores in 2012 and eventually, their flagship IFC store in 2015. The company closed its Hong Kong office shortly after that, thus formally exiting the market. 

We miss their IFC flagship store in particular, as it was always well-stocked with niche lifestyle magazines, stationery, and books on every topic you could imagine. 

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HMV
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikicommons/Ceeseven

HMV

There have been many iterations of HMV throughout the years, but one thing remained true to all of them –  it was the perfect place to kill an awkward amount of time in Hong Kong. Was your friend going to be late for dinner? Go and rifle through records for 23 minutes, even if you had no intention of buying anything. Missed your bus? Idle in the DVD section for a little while until the next one comes. Need to cool off from the sweltering summer heat? Take refuge in the air-conditioning while pretending to be interested in the shelves of earphones. Stay as long as you’d like. The stores were so big that you never felt self-conscious for staying a while. 

As HMV began to pivot away from CDs and DVDs during their later years, instead of focusing on vinyl, pop culture memorabilia, and audio equipment, they became a great place to pick up general-purpose gifts, which is surprisingly hard to do in Hong Kong. If you had to get something for a coworker who you knew nothing about, HMV always had you covered. Perhaps renting huge spaces in prime retail locations while selling increasingly niche products wasn’t the best business move, but the pain of losing HMV is still decidedly fresh given their relatively recent closure.

Krispy Kreme
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikicommons/Henry Fat Elgin

Krispy Kreme

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the US or UK, you’ll know that doughnuts are comparatively hard to find in Hong Kong. And while we love the many imaginative takes that the city's bakers and chefs are offering up, finding a no-frills Western-style doughnut in the city is a particular challenge. But there was a glorious and oh-so-sweet two-year period where Krispy Kreme had a presence here.

Despite success stories such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and even the Cheesecake Factory, more often than not, Hong Kong has historically been unkind to imported Western fast food or casual dining franchises. And sadly, Krispy Kreme is one more footnote in the list of failed attempts, alongside familiar faces like Wendy’s, Dairy Queen, and Fatburger. All seven of the city’s outlets shut down as a result of the 2008 financial crisis.

If you’re really desperate for your Krispy Kreme fix though, you’ll be glad to hear that they’re actually quite successful elsewhere in Asia. It’s actually a decently common practice to ask friends to bring some back for you when they’re on holiday, especially if their destination is South Korea or Japan.

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Lai Yuen Amusement Park
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikicommons/Exploringlife

Lai Yuen Amusement Park

Sure, Hong Kong has Ocean Park and Disneyland, but before all the high-tech rides and glammed up fantasy lands came into play, Hong Kong had Lai Yuen. Closed down in 1997, Lai Yuen Amusement Park was once the most popular attraction in town. Located in the heart of Lai Chi Kok, the park was the go-to weekend destination for many Hongkongers. Ferris wheel, bumper cars, merry-go-round, spinning teacups, haunted house – the list goes on.

On top of all the standard thrill rides and entertainment, Lai Yuen was also home to Hong Kong's first and only skating rink. Oh, and did we mention there used to be striptease performances and other kinds of not-so-PG entertainment as well? Luckily, these were cancelled somewhere between the 60s to 70s due to bad reviews and complaints that the shows damaged the park's family-friendly image.

Business for Lai Yuen started to take a deep plunge when Kai Tak Amusement Park opened up in 1965, and faced even more rivalry when Ocean Park came into the picture in 1977. Despite Kai Tak Amusement Park eventually shutting down in 1982, Lai Yuen's business was not able to make a comeback and was forced to turn off its lights for good on the last day of March in 1977. In the summer of 2015, Lai Yuen made a temporary return at the Central Harbourfront Event Space, bringing back modernised renditions of all the classic games and rides, along with vivid childhood memories for many Hongkongers who were lucky enough to live through the Lai Yuen era.

Lee Tung Street
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikicommons/Jerry Crimson Mann

Lee Tung Street

Technically, Lee Tung Street still exists – you could even say that it’s thriving. Lee Tung Street, or better known now as Lee Tung Avenue, is a place full of excellent international cafes and restaurants, charming streetside sculptures, and hip stores. But Lee Tung Avenue in its current state didn’t come about naturally, and it’s a shame that its history has been made invisible.

Originally a printing hub in the 50s, Lee Tung Street was known as 'wedding card street', a place where you could buy wedding invitations in any style you want. The street was quintessential old-world Hong Kong, full of low-rise walk-up buildings with shops on the bottom and apartments on top, along with large, vibrant signboards hanging off their sides.  

The Urban Renewal Authority redeveloped the street in 2007, in spite of widely covered protests from urban preservation groups and local residents. What happened to the street is nothing short of tragic, and it’s unfortunate that redevelopments like this happen way too often in Hong Kong. If anything, Lee Tung Avenue is a reminder to treasure and support the city’s legacy industries while you still can.

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Traditional tuck shops (士多)
Photograph: Shutterstock

Traditional tuck shops (士多)

The very definition of a stalwart, these traditional tuck shops ('zi doh' in Cantonese) have been reliably selling drinks and snacks in neighbourhoods all across the city ever since your parents were infants, often for a price cheaper than most convenience stores. They’re decidedly utilitarian in every aspect – the friendly shopkeepers make the absolute most of their limited space, stocking their products on floor-to-ceiling shelves, hanging packs of gum, crisps, promotional banners from the ceiling, and even using old crates and boxes to display their goods out front. And if you were lucky, your local tuck shop would even have capsule machines!

Sadly, they’ve become an increasingly rare sight, decreasing in numbers as convenience stores with more resources behind them began to rapidly expand across the city. The shopkeepers are also aging, and their children are understandably choosing not to continue the business. These traditional tuck shops are emblematic of the Hong Kong spirit – much like their decades-old tiled floors, a bit worse for the wear, but persistent and cheerful.

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