Six months after the opening of Sai Ying Pun MTR Station, residents and store tenants have accepted the speedily increasing rent prices.
The dust has settled half a year after the station opened for public use, fitting the last piece of jigsaw in place for the Island Line of the MTR.
Although rents have always been high and are steadily increasing daily in Hong Kong, it is without doubt that the West Island Line extension sped up the rate of the increase.
High Street is the first street of Sai Ying Pun to develop, possibly because of its proximity to the MTR entrances, as well as its closer distance to SoHo and PoHo, where there is a culture of high end eateries and stores. On High Street, almost all the current spaces house restaurants with price labels catered to the middle and high class.
Fortunately for the working class, the gentrification of Sai Ying Pun is not as fast as the growth in Kennedy Town.
Water Street appears normal with older establishments moving out and newer ones popping up, but there have not been any significant changes from before the opening of the MTR stations.
Likewise, Des Voeux Road West does not carry significant changes.
Still, since opening in March 2015, most stores around Sai Ying Pun MTR station have moved out after rent increases, but a lucky few remain.
Mr. Hui, 60, who owns an electric store at the junction between Pok Fu Lam Road and First Street, is one of the lucky few.
Although the completion of the West Island Line extension has not made business better as his customers are mostly familiar faces that have moved away under new price pressures, he is lucky because the rent of his four-year-old store has not increased, owing to the fact that his landlord resides in the U.S. and does not return to Hong Kong often.
But asides from withering business, he is actually happy about the new station.
In fact, he takes the MTR five times weekly and states that it is convenient.
Ms. Leung, 80, is another fortunate store owner on Pok Fu Lam Road who has not has rent issues. This is because she is the landlord of her own store, which sells a variety of old fashioned Chinese goods.
Likewise to Mr. Hui though, she states that the opening of the new MTR stations have not made business any better. She tells us wistfully that the sparse business today is a big difference from the blooming business of the olden days.
Still, she has accepted the development of the area; even stating that travelling has become very convenient for her grandson who studies in HKU.
Ms. Yun, 67, is a resident who has lived in Sai Ying Pun her entire life. She too describes the opening of the MTR line as being convenient.
Further, she has adjusted to the rise in food prices as eateries begin catering to newer residents who can afford the increased rents.
However, she is upset that the area has become less safe and noisier at night due to the openings of bars.
Other establishments are not as lucky.
Mr. Hui tells us that on First Street, an old standing eatery that served Shanghai food moved away a long time ago as it was unable to afford rising rent prices. A restaurant that served Thai food on Second Street has left the area as well.
It is not only eateries that have been forced out. Due to the changing tastes of the new residents who are of a higher working class, a variety of shops have been moved around too. On the more fortunate side, a watch store that had been forced away from its location on Second Street has moved to First Street. On the more unfortunate side, a former pet store had only moved in for half a year before moving out again.
Miss Wong, 23, is a former student of HKU whose family purchased a 300 sq ft apartment on Third Street in 2012.
“We knew that there was MTR construction but the main point [of buying the apartment] was for school convenience,” she explains. But on the subject of increasing rents, she says, “It depends on the market price and demand. We have brought up the price because other similar flats in the area are doing so too.”
The increase in her rental price suggests that new residents have different lifestyles and living qualities from long-time local residents, thus retail stores who want good business must change to cater new tastes.
Image source: K. Y. Cheng, What’s old is new again on walls of new Hong Kong MTR station at Sai Ying Pun