중앙데일리

One stop pet shopping builds on ’60s tradition

[Glimpse of Business in Seoul Fifth in a series: Chungmuro pet street]

July 07,2008
Visitors to the Chungmuro pet street pause to eye offerings at its pet shops. The Chungmuro pet street is the only one in Seoul with many pet-related businesses in one area. By Ahn Yoon-soo

On a rainy afternoon last week, Lee Ji-hyeon, 29, got off the subway at Chungmuro Station in northern Seoul, with her tiny Chihuahua secure in the crook of her arm.

“He’s been having digestive problems, plus he needs a haircut. I also need to buy some dog biscuits. I come to this street often because it’s like a one-stop center for all my pet needs,” she said as she walked down Chungmuro’s “pet street,” the only area in Seoul where pet stores and animal hospitals are clustered together.

There are over 20 pet-related shops on the street, which runs from Chungmuro Station to Cheil General Hospital a few blocks away. Small puppies, most of which would fit into an adult’s cupped hands, line pet shop windows, attracting the glances of passersby.

The pet street actually started in the Myeong-dong area in the early 1960s. “Koreans didn’t have house pets until the end of the Korean War, when U.S. Army troops brought them to the country,” said Youn Sin-keun, a veterinarian and owner of an animal hospital and pet product store in Chungmuro.

The first pet shop in the Myeong-dong area was Aejowon, which no longer exists. Following the store’s success, Myeong-dong saw pet stores and animal hospitals open one by one.

“Including Aejowon, there were two pet shops and one animal hospital in Myeong-dong during the late 1960s,”said Kim Sung-il, publisher of Aegyeonin, a monthly magazine. The name means pet lover in Korean.

But after the 1970s, the pet business spread to Chungmuro.

“Myeong-dong got very expensive all of a sudden so people who wanted to open pet shops launched businesses in nearby Chungmuro, where the rent was cheaper,” said Kim.

Customers play with puppies at a pet shop on Chungmuro pet street, in Chungmuro, central Seoul. By Ahn Yoon-soo
The 1988 Seoul Olympics provided the platform for the first pet boom in Korea, and Chungmuro’s pet street saw a number of stores open. Youn also opened his hospital there, now the biggest in the area, in 1984.

“The Seoul Olympics was a great chance for the country to open up and absorb the influences of globalization. And with this, Korean people began to see dogs not as just animals but as pets,” said Youn.

Still, up until the late 1980s, having pets was associated with wealth. Some industry experts say the Chungmuro pet street formed when the area was also booming as the center of the movie business in the 1970s because wealthy people who owned pets lived there at the time.

When Koreans first started buying dogs, they preferred big, expensive breeds.

“In the early 1980s, German Shepherds were the rage. The price of a German Shepherd then was almost equal to the price of a small apartment in Seoul,” he said.

During the 1990s, the pet industry blossomed further and then stabilized. At its peak, during the early 2000s, Chungmuro pet street had around 60 shops. Since around 2004, the industry and the pet street have faced a slump.

“Pet shops here [Chungmuro] never experienced a slump before 2003, 2004. But since then, the industry has died down along with the country’s economy,” said Woo In-boum, the owner of New York Pets in Chungmuro. Woo, now in his 70s, had been selling pets, mainly dogs, in the area since the early 1970s.

Shop owners in Chungmuro said that during the hardest months, they sold pets for about a third of their cost compared to two to three years earlier.

“The pet industry faced a bubble in 2004 because the early 2000s saw practically everyone buying pets. The slowdown in the industry was inevitable,” said Kim.

Youn sees the Internet culture as another main reason behind the slump of offline pet-related businesses.

“Now, you can go online to buy pets. Also, many visitors say that they go to the vet less frequently because they think they can get information about treating their pets online,” he said.

Ahn Yeong-hwan, who now runs a beauty academy on Chungmuro pet street, owned a pet store in the 1980s and a pet beauty salon from 1996 to 2005.

“Ever since the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the pet industry has been suffering, along with the nation’s economy,” said Ahn.

In late 2006 and early 2007, Chungmuro pet street faced controversy when newspapers reported that the centers were selling diseased pets.

“I left my pet shop in Chungmuro because there were no clear regulations from the government which pet shop owners could adhere to,” Ahn said.

“This resulted in many sick puppies being sold in Chungmuro.”

He said that puppies shouldn’t be raised in small pet shops and that the animals would be better off if they were raised on a farm and then introduced to prospective owners through pet centers.

“There were many reasons, but the Chungmuro ‘sick puppy’ controversy is a result of shop owners neglecting the health of their puppies, as well as people wanting smaller dogs, which are more prone to disease,” said Youn.

Nevertheless, pet lovers from all over Seoul still come to Chungmuro to take care of pet needs. Added to that, the pets in Chungmuro cost from 10 to 20 percent less than what one would pay in individual pet shops throughout Seoul.

“As pet shops are in a cluster here, the price is relatively lower than in other areas in Seoul. My treatments are around 20 to 50 percent lower compared to high-end animal hospitals in the city but with the competition there are about six animal hospitals in Chungmuro we provide more services and strict after-care,” said Youn.

“The Chungmuro pet street is rare because in no other country will one see this many pet-related shops all in one area. It’s even in the Seoul city guide book. I just hope the industry stabilizes enough so that I can keep doing the job I love,” said Woo.


By Cho Jae-eun Staff Reporter [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]



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