Chongqing’s compound stores lure young from malls

From vintage toy shops to niche bookstores, these hidden gems are transforming old compounds into thriving hubs.


Two tourists visit a shop inside a community in Chongqing's Shapingba district on Sept 27. ZHOU YI/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

February 23, 2023

CHONGQING — When Xu Chenxu was looking for a shop that went viral on social media recently in Chongqing, he was sent into an old residential compound by his navigation software.

“I was wondering if I had gone the wrong way,” said the tourist, adding that he was confused by the unexpected location of the popular store.

Shops tucked away in residential areas are becoming more common in the city, as they offer a more unique and personalized experience compared to the typical mall.

From vintage toy shops to niche bookstores, these hidden gems are drawing visitors in search of an experience and are transforming old compounds into thriving hubs.

The shop Xu was looking for, Dream Box, mainly sells vintage toys and souvenirs. It is located in Jiazhou Garden, one of the first residential compounds in Chongqing with towers.

For many residents, these old compounds capture the hustle and bustle of the city.

“Here was a normal and even somewhat decrepit compound from the outside, but the shop pleasantly surprised me,” Xu said, adding that inside, it felt like being in a fairy-tale world.

“Unlike monotonous chain stores in shopping malls, compound shops stand out for their unique features, as owners make them look the way they want,” said 25-year-old shop owner Ouyang Haoran.

Ouyang and her friends have been collecting vintage toys for many years, and in 2021 they opened the shop to share their interest with others. The store later became a popular destination on Xiaohongshu, a lifestyle app, with one of the founders’ accounts gaining over 50,000 followers.

Lei Tianming, a visitor from Anhui province, said that visiting these shops is more like exploration and quite different from the experience of going to a mall.

“The different styles inspire a sense of wonder, and shoppers don’t feel bored,” Lei said.

Painted stairways add a colorful touch to an old neighborhood in Chongqing. ZHAO JUNCHAO/FOR CHINA DAILY

Huang Li, a 37-year-old cafe owner in Jiazhou Garden, had an ambitious plan to transform the compound into the most artistic of its kind in Chongqing after seeing the upsurge of visitors following the optimization of COVID-19 controls.

Her idea gained immediate support from 11 shops in the compound, including clothing stores and restaurants.

“The increase in visitors speaks volumes for the fact that we are on track,” Huang said.

Another shop located in a compound in Chongqing’s Jiangbei district known as the “Anonymous Bookstore” has recently intrigued youngsters in pursuit of food for thought.

Mo Bi, its 33-year-old owner, worked in the real estate sector until seven years ago. She admitted that it is an adventure to run a bookstore.

The everyday routine can become somewhat trivial, and she has had to grapple with the challenge of surviving on a smaller income.

Fortunately, the rent in the compound is far lower than in malls and on shopping streets, and the store’s popularity has grown beyond her expectations.

Mo’s books are niche. She generally stocks the kind she enjoys reading herself, such as titles about feminism, but to her surprise, they have attracted like-minded youngsters.

“Many books have been snapped up since Spring Festival,” she said.

One of the store’s regulars said: “There are so many books here you don’t normally see, it’s a real feast for the eyes. I love reading in spaces like these, so full of life.”

Mo organizes discussions and other activities for her customers, and some end up staying into the small hours.

“When I see readers losing themselves in my books, I feel that all my work and effort have been worth it,” Mo said.

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