At Changsin-dong, Toys 'R' ThemWednesday, Nov. 7, at 11 a.m., a side street at the corner of Dokil Pharmacy in Changsin-dong, Seoul, was so full of toys it looked like Santa's warehouse. The narrow street was full on both sides with piles of toys ready to be carried away.
The 300-meter stretch is known as the Changsin-dong toy market. There are over 120 wholesalers that sell toys for about 30 to 40 percent less than in retail stores.
In 1975 toy stores first began to set up on the side street. Back then, Cheonggyecheon feeder stream flowed (or rather, oozed) past and there were few commercial buildings. But the stream was covered and when Dongdaemun Subway Station was built in the neighborhood, toy stores all over Seoul began to move to the Changsin-dong street.
There are several toy markets in Seoul, including in Namdaemun, Yeongdeungpo and Bangsan; however, Changsin-dong toy market is the largest in the nation.
"In the past, most of the customers to the market were retailers," said a wholesaler, "but these days, there are many individual buyers also who found out about the market through the Internet and come to look for better deals."
Obviously, one of the chief merits of the Changsin-dong Toy Market is its low prices.
"I paid only 30,000 won (about $23) for what I would have paid 40,000 won somewhere else," said Sin Gyeong-sik, a high school student who was holding a big teddy bear, a gift for his girlfriend.
He had just purchased the stuffed doll at the market. "Most of all, I am happy that I was able to save some of my meager allowance by coming here," the satisfied young customer added.
The market even counts some foreigners among its loyal customers. "I have been coming here since three years ago, whenever I need to buy toys for a gift," said a man from India who has been living in Korea for eight years.
The Changsin-dong Toy Market is the place to visit if one wants to know the hottest toy-trends in Korea. The most popular toy nowadays is "Top Blade," a spinning top. Top Blade is so popular that it sells out quickly everyday.
Given the large impact that Japanese animation has in Korea, dolls such as Pokemons and Digimons are also big sellers.
Kim Ik-hee, who has worked in a toy store at the market for eight years, said, "Up until several years ago, dolls such as Barbie and Mimi were the main items at toy markets. The recent hit items, however, are toys made after cartoon characters that appear on television shows."
Another change in the market is that many of the stores offer better after-service than in the past. In case there is any problem with a toy, repair service is available for three to four days after the purchase.
Around Christmas and Children's Day are the busiest times of year at Changsin-dong Toy Market. Because the market can get so crowded, and because there is little parking in the area, it is best to go there by public transportation. Take subway line No. 1 or No. 4 to Dongdaemun Station, and walk toward Dokil Pharmacy. The toy market is on the left.
by Baik Sung-ho