중앙데일리

Get your spooks on Toy Street

[Glimpse of Business in Seoul 17th in the series: Changsin-dong Toy Street]

Sept 29,2008
A view of the Changsin-dong Toy Street in central Seoul on Friday. Some 100 toy and stationery stores cluster there. By Jeon Min-kyu
If you are enough of a Halloween maniac to already be preparing for the ghoulish holiday, a visit to a narrow street near the Dongdaemun subway station in central Seoul could be of haunting significance.

In four stores specializing in party supplies among more than 100 toy and stationery stores on this street, commonly called the Changsin-dong Toy Street, you will find more Halloween goods than in other areas in Seoul. They range from superhero and witch costumes to big stuffed spiders and masks in the Venice Carnival styles. The Toy Street stores also have various kinds of party supplies such as balloons, candles and garlands.

“The stores on this street sell party supplies at a 20 to 40 percent discount compared to department stores and other retailers,” said Kim Kwan-hoon, a worker at Odette, a party supplies store here. “This is because we are basically wholesalers, though we also sell goods to retail consumers. Halloween makes October a high-demand season. Foreigners living in Korea and people from English-language institutes for children that celebrate the holiday are main customers. Other high demand seasons are Children’s Day in May and Christmas.”

“Those who look for props for comedy, drama, or musical performances also frequently visit the party supplies stores on this street,” said Lee Young-jik at Non-Stop Party, another store on the street.

This street, officially named the Stationery and Toy Wholesale Market, cannot be easily spotted from the main street where Dongdaemun subway station is located. To find it, come out of the station’s No. 4 exit, walk several meters and turn right at the corner of Dokil Drugstore. Suddenly you’ll see old-fashioned stores lining both sides of a narrow street, with vividly colored toys and school supplies displayed out front.

This market started with three toy stores that had relocated from the Bangsan Market near Cheonggye Stream in the mid-1970s, according to the Jongno District Office.

Today, the number of stores reaches more than 100. Originally, the market was for retailers - not direct consumers. But, as the number of consumers visiting the market increased due to the market’s low prices, all stores now welcome those shoppers.

“About 30 percent of our adult customers look for toys for themselves, while 70 percent look for gifts for their children,” said Kim Hui-jong, a worker at Seungjin Wangu, the biggest toy store on Toy Street. The store has been there for 27 years.

Shoppers browse piles of toys at Seungjin Wangu, the biggest toy store on the Changsin-dong Toy Street in central Seoul on Friday. By Jeon Min-kyu
As examples of toys for adults, she pointed out elaborate miniature models of actual vehicles, Barbie dolls in splendid dresses for collectors and complex versions of Lego construction toys displayed on the store’s first floor.

The first floor of the store is also filled with various toys for children, including models of Wall-E, the robot hero of the recently released Pixar film. A price tag of 30,000 won was attached to the Wall-E models, which are made by a Korean toy maker with a Pixar license. Actually, a Wall-E can be bought for a mere 21,000 won, at 30 percent off. Kim explained that “imported toys are discounted by 10 to 25 percent, while domestic toys are discounted by 30 percent or more.” So beware. Consumers need to check what the “actual prices” of the toys on this street.

“And if you’re a good bargainer, you could get an even steeper discount,” said another worker beside Kim, with a smile.

Some stores have put two price tags on their goods - one indicating wholesale price and one indicating the higher retail price.

Asked which price applies to an ordinary consumer, Jang Pil-sik, president of Artpia, a store dealing with stationery on the street, said, “Of course the wholesale price.

Why do consumers come to this market, instead of department stores or stores near home? “They come for the low prices. We have put the retail price tag only for comparison.

“Well, the prices of school supplies in stores here are certainly lower than in other stores,” said Seo Ji-suk, a 36-year-old housewife living in Geumho-dong, eastern Seoul.

She dropped by here to buy some school supplies for her daughter, now an elementary school student, after she purchased some clothes in the neighboring Dongdaemun shopping center.

“As for toys, their prices here are low compared to those in department stores and stationery shops near my home, but sometimes the prices here are higher than those being sold in the online [customer-to-customer] marketplace. But the advantage of this street is that I can see various toys at once and choose. I will come here with my children at Christmas season, so that they can select gifts themselves.”

Stationery such as note pads and pencil cases are sold on this street at 30 to 40 percent discount. A consumer can buy them a piece at a time, but buying in quantity can bring even steeper discounts. Some stores here deal with both children’s stationery and toys, but many stores specialize in certain goods.

Some deal exclusively with science supplies, while others are specialized for gym class.

Some stores deal mainly with plastic model kits of robots from Japanese animations such as Gundam, while others offer Hello Kitty goods.

Some are dedicated to stationery and accessories featuring the famous Japanese kitty character loved by girls and also by some grown women.

Stores on the Changsin Toy Street are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturdays.

On Sunday, many stores are closed, though a few are open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

As this is an old-fashioned market, there are only a few narrow pay parking lots. Visitors are advised to use the subway or other public transportation.

Another weak point of this street is that it is difficult to find a cafe or restaurant to rest while window shopping.


By Moon So-young Staff Reporter [symoon@joongang.co.kr]



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