Zhaojialou redevelopment spurs businesses to explore new avenues

Yang Yang
A facelift is in Zhaojialou Ancient Town and most of the small store owners have been relocated to nearby districts, but some have chosen to move into a newly constructed plaza.
Yang Yang
Zhaojialou redevelopment spurs businesses to explore new avenues
Ti Gong

Visitors are attracted to the rich variety of snacks on offer at the Lehi Xintiandi Plaza in Minhang District. The store owners who relocated from Zhaojialou Ancient Town to make way for a redevelopment project are now establishing new businesses at this location.

The Lehi Xintiandi Plaza at No. 121 of Jiangwen Road in Minhang District is the closest commercial complex to Zhaojialou Ancient Town, where an urban village redevelopment project is underway.

Store owners of snacks, regional specialties and traditional Chinese medicine who were among the first group of "business settlers" in Zhaojialou today congregate at the plaza to continue their yanhuoqi (烟火气,hustle-and-bustle, literally means the smoke and fire produced from cooking food) businesses.

Li Chengbing, who is from the northern Jiangsu Province, began his dream in Zhaojialou. When he first arrived in Zhaojialou, his salty, rustic pork was very popular.

"In 2011, I opened a shop in Zhaojialou. A neighbor suggested that I sell salty pork from the rural areas of northern Jiangsu. Thankfully, the business took off," Li recalled.

"We had loyal clients. Every time they came to Zhaojialou, they chose to order a piece of salty pork from our shop. I felt honored when they would greet me from a distance.

Pan Zhengrong runs his business selling traditional Shanghai snacks, including Double Ninth cakes, Chongming cakes, and babaofan, (八宝饭, "eight-treasure rice" puddings), at the plaza.

"Especially on Double Ninth and Dragon Boat festivals, back in the days in Zhaojialou, we were extremely busy and often worked till midnight to prepare food for customers," Pan said.

Zhaojialou redevelopment spurs businesses to explore new avenues

From Left: Shaomai (steamed dumplings), babaofan ("eight-treasure rice" puddings) and salty pork

Deng Lixia's traditional Chinese medicine shop once attracted a lot of middle-aged and senior tourists to the historic town.

She would gently explain to her senior clients the variations between various dendrobes, a TCM tonic that was processed into larger spirals or smaller curls.

"As the ancient town is undergoing a facelift, we try to preserve the essence of the 'hustle-and-bustle' business at this plaza so that customers who missed them are able to find them here," said an official.

From 2008 to 2010, Zhaojialou Ancient Town was developed into a 4A scenic area. It officially opened to welcome visitors on May 12, 2010, in time for the World Expo Shanghai.

Owners of the auxiliary businesses came from all across the country. In the beginning, there weren't many visitors, but that changed in 2012, according to Ye Ping, manager of Zhaojialou Ancient Town Co.

The ancient town was praised for its strategic location and size, which was around 200 mu (13.3 hectares) in the first phase and 1,065.5 mu in the second. In addition to Sanlin hog skins and pickles, its specialties and appetizers included Zhaojialou goat meat and potent spirits.

"Those goods with decent prices were especially popular among middle-aged and senior visitors," Ye said.

The managerial panel faced a harder step to prevent the town from becoming a stereotyped watertown and losing its luster. Shanghai officials recognized the town's potential as a more influential tourism site due to its agricultural past, water-control history, and Jiangnan watertown culture.

Shui On, a Hong Kong real estate behemoth, began its reconstruction plan study in 2021.

After the proposal was approved, the town began its relocation effort in January 2023 and relocated 342 stores to Zhujiajiao, Qibao, Xinchang and Qingxi ancient towns by May 30, with the nearest location being Lehi Xintiandi Plaza.

"Young and old should both like Zhaolou Tiandi in the future. Five-star hotels and minsu, or Chinese B&B, will encourage visitors to stay in Zhaojialou," Ye said.

"By then, we will still welcome the store owners, who had witnessed the development of the ancient town in the past 13 years, to be back to open their branch stores or even flagship stores here."

"We huddle here as a group to keep on introducing Zhaojialou's tradition and food to our customers," said Hu Bin, a Shanghai dim-sum chef with 30 years of experience.

"I never feel sluggish," said Cheng Kun, another store owner.

"I miss selling the popular Zhaojialou ham hocks like I used to and hope to return someday."

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