Tuesday, October 5, 1999

Chinatown Night Market
shuts down; talks planned

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Sun Hung "Sunny" Wong's dream to light up Maunakea Street with food and craft booths every Saturday night is over.

The Chinatown Night Market was shut down after Sept. 11, less than two months after the start July 17 under the sponsorship of the Chinatown Merchants Association.

Wong, executive director of the group, cited poor response on the part of vendors and visitors.

The association had hoped to get a minimum of 30 food and merchandise booths at the two blocks of Maunakea between Beretania and King streets. The group could barely muster half that amount at a charge of $75 a booth, Wong said. In August, the group offered free booth space and the number of booths shot up to 24 one week.

When it shut down quietly last month, about 15 groups were paying $20 a week.

Wong said people are used to coming to Chinatown to see lots of prepared food and bargain crafts and found very little of either. "Some of the vendors had good products but the place was wrong to sell some of those products," Wong said.

The event also failed to generate the excitement that has sustained night markets elsewhere in the world, he said. "It should be exciting and it hasn't been exciting, except us guys making a lot of noise with the lion dancing," Wong said.

The association lost money on electricity, security and setup costs, but Wong refused to divulge how much.

"We're not griping because it lost money," he said.

Not all were unhappy at the night market's demise.

Last spring, some Chinatown residents and lei vendors raised questions. Residents feared traffic tie-ups while lei-makers were afraid walk-up traffic to their late-opening booths would be shut off.

"I"m so happy my business came back," said Cindy Lau, owner of Cindy's Lei and Flower Shoppe on Maunakea Street. "It's very good now." Lynne Matusow, Neighborhood Board chairwoman, said market studies should have been done before the event started. "While it may have helped some of the restaurants down here, some of the lei stands were really hurting," Matusow said.

Undaunted, Wong, 80, said he and other members of the association want to re-evaluate the event and perhaps open it again in a reconstituted form sometime next year. Staunch supporter Mayor Jeremy Harris said he will meet with Wong and the association later this week to discuss "future options."

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