Two night markets in Richmond now welcome visitors. The smell and sizzling of oil drowns the air, vendors cry out the latest deals and packed crowds move in tides every weekend.
Across the water in Vancouver, however, Chinatown’s streets will remain quiet on weekend evenings as its own night market has been cancelled this year. The annual event has run for the past 17 years and would have opened mid-May.
The cancellation surprised many as the Vancouver Chinatown Night Market reported hosting record numbers thanks to the reinvention of the market by two first-time program directors, Tannis Ling, owner of Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, and Ken Tsui, a local pop-up event organizer.
The night market is organized by the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association, which attributed the cancellation to costs,
Henry Tom, one of the association’s directors, does not believe Richmond’s night markets can replace Chinatown’s.
“We have the historical Chinatown backdrop and have more to offer in terms of heritage and atmosphere. They are totally different experiences,” said Tom.
Stephanie French, owner of The Pie Shoppe on Gore Street, was one of many vendors at the Chinatown night market last year. She notes the amount of young business owners who signed up as vendors and had the chance to have fun while displaying their goods.
French also doesn’t believe the experience can be compared to Richmond’s. “It’s important to recognize Vancouver’s cultural diversity and we shouldn’t have to go down to Richmond when we can have a taste of it in the city.”
While unique and affordable items are a big part of night markets, last year’s Chinatown market had a strong community focus, with a wide variety of attractions, including screenings of kung fu movies, dumpling-eating contests, street mahjong and video game tournaments — none of which are present at Richmond’s market.
Rick Chung visited the Chinatown night market last year and had mixed feelings about the reinvention. “Chinatown has changed a lot as there is a younger, hipper crowd now and it almost didn’t feel like a Chinese night market,” said Chung. “[The night market] was a reflection of what Chinatown had become with all the new bars and restaurants in the area.”
Chung doesn’t think entertainment is much of a draw when it comes to night markets.
“People only go to night markets for the cheap crap and food, and the Richmond ones are so huge. There are at least five stalls that sell the same thing and you can choose between them.”
The Chinatown site may be a modest size, but this is why the Courier’s Sweet Spot columnist Eagranie Yuh likes it. She remembers when her mother used to take her to Chinatown and likes the personal atmosphere. “The Richmond ones make me feel like I must’ve missed something.
Chinatown is much more manageable and you can have conversations with people and actually feel like you’ve seen the whole thing,” said Yuh.
It is uncertain when the Vancouver Chinatown Night Market will return, and Tom recognizes the challenge of increased construction and development in the area.
“We are hoping to see exciting new things and hoping it will be feasible to bring back the night market at some point with all the new developments,” said Tom.