If you want to pick up a high-class souvenir or authentically Korean product, you head over to Jongo, and specifically the area of Myeongdong. Shopping here can be an intense experience, as there are dozens upon dozens of stores—so how do you chose where to go and what's best? Don’t worry: Time Out Seoul's here to help…
The best shops in Myeongdong and Jongno
Simply entering the door is like an act of visual purification. The founder of this shop is artist Keum Dong-won, who expresses beautiful human emotions through color, touching on themes such as nature, life, music, and time. The artist creates and sells various items such as scarves, bags, watches, cups, and mirrors, all based on his own work.
There is a simple black frame where the storefront should be. A tiny plate glued to the pillar reads, in Korean: Wooyeon Sujip. A wooden board hewn into the shape of a cat adorns the outdoor unit of the air conditioner. And these adorable words beckon to passersby: “I won’t eat you, meow.
Okin Store is the gathering place of Seochon. This place doubles as a select shop and the studio of Seochon native Seol Jae-woo. There is always something happening here. Anyone can sell handiwork on the rented-out shelves. Artwork by local Seochon artists are on sale alongside independent publications.
What is a vintage shop without some ordered chaos? A vintage accessory shop worth the name should be packed tightly with an assortment of items, giving the impression that all the things have aged through time and developed their own voices. In this regard, Yellow Wall Studio is perfect. Here, you won’t find that the word "vintage" is a mere formality—anything but. It may look like a quiet place, but appearances can be deceiving: emotionally, it is full of noise and chatter.
If you're a cat lover, you can’t pass this place by. The mascot of the Cat Stationery Store is Curo ("cure" in Spanish), and you can spot his likeness on the outer wall of the 2nd story. Once you’re entranced, and you enter, you'll be highly entertained. Curo naked, Curo as a clown, Curo drenched in patterns, Curo as Sherlock Holmes... the innumerable guises of Curo, dressed up in many different roles, can be seen in calendars, cards, bags, and stationery.
Modern Market Place opened shop in a small hanok (traditional Korean house) where Na Seong-suk the lacquer-master once lived. It’s now a space where handicrafts made by craftsmen all over the country as well as other artists’ works are exhibited and sold. In the small, endearing C-shaped home, every nook and cranny is crammed full of tidy items borne from the loving hands of artists and craftsmen.
Jeo Jip is a gallery dedicated to the art of the chopstick. The building, a pure white asymmetrical structure that recalls folded paper, is itself a work of art. The interior incorporates the harmony of earth, sky and water with a slate-black stone wall on one side, a sculpture representing clouds hanging above, and a center “water” space with chopsticks displayed on spindly-legged lily pad tables. There is a range of prices and styles, ranging from traditional mother of pearl to modern bright colors, and Chinese (long and sturdy), Japanese (short and pointy) and Korean (the happy medium) traditions of chopstick making are all represented. All of the chopsticks are made with the same dedication to craft: they are coated with lacquer harvested from sumac (옻나무) in Gangwon-do and slowly dried in rooms kept at 70% humidity for a sturdy finish. Each pair takes five to six months to complete.These may be amongst the most expensive chopsticks you’ll find in Seoul, but they’re also the loveliest. Paired with pretty ceramic chopstick rests, they make excellent gifts—the Blue House has also brought Jeo Jip chopsticks as gifts on official delegations to Vietnam and Russia.
Daeo Book store is the oldest secondhand bookshop in Seoul, celebrating its 60th year in business since it was founded in Seochon way back in 1951. The ancient hanok where the elderly founding couple lived stretches into the interior of the bookshop and remains largely unchanged. When the elderly gentleman eventually passed away, his wife maintained the place alone until she put it up for rent several years ago, to the dismay of many.
This shop is run by Cheil Industries with the goal of social contribution. As the name of the place implies, the owners definitely show enormous passion for supporting less privileged neighbors by sharing the work of artists with warm hearts (hence, "Heartist"). The profits go entirely to campaigns supporting visually-challenged children, endangered animal species, and underprivileged populations who are not quite covered by the social welfare system.
Art can introduce a softer side to our harsh, competitive lives. It’s certainly an observable fact: the closer we keep artistic inspiration to our hearts, the richer and kinder we become, emotionally and spiritually. Art Share is an shop aiming to create art that can get under your skin and still remain very accessible. The owners of this shop create fun, unique, idea-based items, accessories and stationery that can be used in everyday situations—all through collaborations with newer artists, established artists, and foreign artists. You can purchase merchandise with stamped-on artwork or works of art in varying sizes at reasonable prices.