I just read the other day that Nanluoguxiang 南罗鼓巷, one of my favourite places to check out periodically is becoming a ghost town after greedy landlords decided to jack up rents -- in a bid to become obscenely rich.
Only last month I was there to meet up with a friend visiting from Shanghai, and already the place had changed again, now featuring a number of tacky boutiques selling just about anything in the hopes a customer will buy something. That's not how business works.
We met up in a restaurant called Fish Nation, which offers fish and chips so I was shocked to read that the place had shut down recently. That's because the landlord for Fish Nation was demanding a 400 percent rent increase from 150,000RMB to 600,000RMB ($21,961 to $87,844). While business is good there, particularly on weekends, the restaurant owners in no way can pay such a high rent.
A similar thing happened to the Indian restaurant Birch Masala which I had visited over a year and a half ago. They decided to move to Ritan Park to escape the escalating rent.
Where do landlords get the idea they can charge exorbitant rents?
When I first visited the hutong, it was a wonderful mix of Chinese and western, of traditional life with enterprising boutiques. Progressively every few months, the place kept changing, with more storefronts added, no matter how small, selling hot dogs and yogurt, Mao matchboxes and tie-dye clothing.
The place had a wonderful bohemian feel to it, as the cheap rents allowed young people to start arts and crafts businesses or small eateries without too much risk.
But now, some say many of the landlords are becoming too greedy.
Dominic Johnson-Hill, owner of Plastered T-shirts, wrote on his blog, "its much like the landlords are committing suicide going for the highest possible price only to ruin the street's feel and then the rents go down again [sic]."
So maybe Nanluoguxiang is in flux again, and this is only temporary. But it's disheartening when greedy landlords can only dream of dollar signs in their eyes.