Store's traditional goods revive memories

A 63-year-old store in Jing'an District is offering a collection of goods popular when many of today's customers were children. Such items have long disappeared from larger stores.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Beijing Department Store, named because of its location, offers a wide range of traditional goods.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Zhang Lehua (right), the owner of the Beijing Department Store, watches as a customer tries a “fake collar,” a short vest-like replacement for shirts, yesterday. In the 1970-80s, locals bought “fake collars” to save money and also because they were easier to wash. 

BEIJING Department Store, a 63-year-old grocery store on Shimen No. 2 Road in Jing’an District, is stirring memories with its collection of traditional Shanghai goods.

“At the very beginning it was a repair shop for things like broken umbrellas, rain boots and mianmaoshan, a kind of long-sleeved inner shirt, while selling some small grocery items,” said Zhang Lehua, owner of the store near Beijing Road W., who has been working there for 40 years. “After enterprise restructuring in 1992, it was given the name Beijing Department Store for its location.”

Zhang said times were hard in the early days. “It was hard for us to get some popular goods since most of them often went to the shopping malls. I made efforts to find more supply channels and expand the variety of goods,” he said.

Six decades ago the store had eight branches. However, due to urban planning, only one is left today.

Many Shanghainese, especially the middle-aged and elderly, went to the store for “fake collars” — a short vest-like replacement for shirts. Some said it was a way for people to save money and still be respectably dressed. Others said the collars were easier to wash when they got dirty compared to a normal shirt.

A “fake collar” was used by Shanghai actor Zhao Dan in the film “Street Angel,” starring singer Zhou Xuan in her debut role. After the film’s release the product gained wide popularity.

In response to consumer demand, Zhang found a few factories to make collars for him with the name of the store. The store could sell more than a hundred a day at its busiest, he said. When collars were sold out, Zhang, who could tell a customer’s neck size just by looking, would give the customers a note of the store’s phone number and address for them to contact him.

“I heard about this store from my neighbor,” said a 62-year-old customer surnamed Wang. “Now there is almost nowhere that we can buy such ‘fake collars.’” Wang prefers “fake collars” because they are easy to wash.

Another customer surnamed Zhang, 59, said the store contains all his childhood memories. “I was brought up on nearby Taixing Road and often came here when I was young,” Zhang said. “At that time I felt that whatever I wanted could be found here.” Although his family later moved away, he still drops by from time to time. “I can say most of the old people living in Jing’an District have memories of this store.”

A 62-year-old woman, surnamed Xu, who accompanied her husband to the store to buy “fake collars,” said they used to make such collars by themselves. “We used to live in this area but later moved. We thought the store would have been closed but we learned it was still open from television. So we come here again.”

Besides “fake collars,” people can find many other traditional Shanghai goods that have disappeared from department stores. Geliyou, or clam oil — a traditional lotion stored inside a clam shell — and sandal soap, a soap that can also serve as mothballs. “Our store will open as long as the customers need us,” said Zhang.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

tanyu --- A Chinese spittoon that can also be used as a chamber pot. It is usually given as gifts to newlyweds and are filled with Chinese jujube (hongzao), lotus (lianzi), peanuts (huasheng) and dried longan pulp (guiyuan) to mean zaosheng guizi, or start a family soon.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Geliyou --- Clam oil, a traditional lotion stored inside a clam shell

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Guben Soap --- An old Shanghai-made soap used for washing clothes.

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