A lady buys skin care products at Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
As a focus of the world, 2016 Rio Olympics has caught people’s eye not only for its competition highlights but also for its interesting sidelights behind the grand scenes. Chinese elements from mosquito net, cupping, to other made-in-China products like sportswear, souvenirs, and air conditioners are gaining recognition and popularity during the Games. It is time we pride ourselves on our domestic goods. Actually, there are several places in Beijing where you can find high quality domestic household goods at reasonable prices, and Yongan Baihuo (Yonganlu Department Store) is one of them.
Located to the east of the crossroad of Yongan Lu and Qianer Hutong, Yonganlu Department Store is not quite far away from Hufangqiao subway station.
The plaque faded into light pink and the posters of the ’60s and ’70s style on the exterior wall suggest the long history of the store. As it is, open to the public at the beginning of 1958, the store is almost the same age as a retired man.
The exterior of Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
Entering into the store, you will be taken by surprise by its small size and all inclusive goods. Actually, it is more like a store rather than a department store, as the literal translation of its Chinese name indicates.
The interior of the store takes the shape of a lying down letter “L”, with the larger part devoted to clothing and shoes. In the left section contemporary style clothes mainly for the elderly and middle-aged are sold at moderate prices. While more classic old-fashioned clothes and shoes like blue and white striped T shirts, cardigan jackets, traditional cloth shoes as well as Huili (Warrior) sneakers can be found in the right section. Being comfortable and durable, they once represented the fashion of the time and also win many fans today. Besides, you may also find slippers with ramie soles and Shuangqian (Double Coin) rain boots. According to the shop assistant, made of natural fiber the former are antiberiberi while as an old brand the latter are of high quality. Between the two sections is a watch repair stand.
Double Coin rain boots sold in Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
As you go deeper into the store on the right, you will find an inverted U-shaped counter in front of you behind which are shelves crammed with diversified goods and a cloth stall beside you where you can buy cloth of different patterns and place an order of tailor-made clothes and bedclothes.
Cloth with different flower patterns is sold in Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
On the right side of the shelves are cosmetics, mostly domestic made. Some brands may be unfamiliar to the ’80s generation, let alone the ’90s generation, but they really can find brands popular in their childhood like Haiou (Seagull) cream shampoo and Anan face cream. The ’50s and ’60s generation are perhaps more familiar with much older domestic brands like Gongdeng (Palace Lantern), Shanghai, Baiqueling (Pehchaolin), and Youyi (Friendship). It is worth mentioning the creamy skin care oil packaged in seashells which was once popular among the masses especially in harsh winters in the past when skin was easily to chap due to their good effects and low price. The white and smooth seashell package looks attractive as well today.
Creamy skin care oil packaged in seashells is sold in Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
Above the shelves, old posters reflecting the social scenes of the 1950s and 1960s are still on the wall, adding a nostalgic atmosphere to the place. They strike a chord with elder people and bring back to them the old days when life was hard but simple.
Old posters reflecting the social scenes of the 1950s and 1960s are still on the wall of Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
In the middle part of the counter are mainly household utensils like thermoses, enamel wares and old style cookers, stationery and tin toys. You may also find bicycle components like bells, pedals and tire patching glue as well as hardware and tools such as taps, hinges and spanners. Things as small as thermos corks and pail handles can also be found here. As for stationery, you can not only find pencils and gel ink pens but also fountain pens and “four treasures of the study” - brush pen, ink-stick, paper and ink stone. The tin toys which arouse the good childhood memories of the adults are equally eye catching though they only occupy a small space.
Thermoses sold in Yonganlu Department Store.[Photo/Qianlong]
The shelves on the left contains small household articles like electric torches, mechanical clocks, baron lanterns and odds and ends in daily use including knitting needles and snap fasteners. In lean times, these cheap small items played an important role in people’s daily lives although they can hardly be found in modern households.
Electric torches and baron lanterns sold in Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
Visiting Yonganlu Department Store is like traveling through time and space. You could hardly think such an old store still exists in today’s Beijing. In a time when most people turn to online shopping, supermarkets and large malls to buy what they need, it is there promoting domestic brands, recording the past and passing on an idea of simple and sustainable way of life to people despite of great social changes.
Electrical devices showcased on a board in Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
However, if you think it is only a “living fossil” of Chinese stores, you are also wrong. Small details indicate that the store is also changing. In addition to the “old things”, you can buy new brands and commodities people use today too. Though Chinese abacus, which used to be used by cashiers in stores, is still on the counter, some shop assistants are also using electronic calculators. As to payment, if you don’t bring enough cash with you, don’t worry, you may also pay through WeChat payment. Hopefully, stores like Yonganlu Department Store will thrive rather than survive in the future.
Skin care products of domestic brands sold in Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
Enamel mugs with slogans of the old days are sold in Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
Stationery and tin toys are displayed on the shelf of Yonganlu Department store. [Photo/Qianlong]
An ink stone and ink sticks sold in Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
Classic old fashioned canteen, mug and satchels sold in in Yonganlu Department Store. [Photo/Qianlong]
Getting there: Get out of Exit C of Hufangqiao subway station and walk eastward to Qianer Hutong. Walk along Qianer Hutong and turn left when reaching Yongan Lu.
Opening hours: 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.