Something fishy is going on in Taipei’s Shida area. A large number of restaurants and entertainment establishments in the area have either been closed down recently by the government, or are coming under increased pressure to shutter their businesses. Government inspectors are using legalities which have not been enforced for the more than two decades that many of the restaurants have been established in the area in order to force them out of business.
The main story used by government inspectors to force restaurant closures in Shida is that the businesses were established on alleyways less than 6m across, which is against the law. They also say that residents have complained about the excessive noise and greasy smoke from restaurants and patrons.
However, why only Shida, and why now? Many Shida restaurant owners say they want the Taipei City Government, which has heavily promoted the area as a tourist site, to give them more time to move, but the city wants them closed now. Why such a hurry? In the short span of about six months, dozens of restaurants have been boarded up. Grandma Nitty’s, which has been open for almost two decades in Shida, is being forced out of the neighborhood. However, the strange thing is, if Grandma Nitty’s — which has been slinging premium Western food long before it was available in most Taipei neighborhoods — was opened illegally, why only enforce the law now, and why with so much haste?
Another major establishment to bite the dust is Underworld, the hub of Taipei’s indie rock music scene for years. Although the music venue has had its run-ins with inspectors in the past, it addressed those concerns long ago in a bid to remain open, and it is not on an alleyway that is less than 6m across. So what is the deal?
The shopping, food and entertainment area that grew up around Shida Road, fed by the six universities and 60,000 students operating within 2km of it, is the livelihood of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Destroying it is a decision that should not be taken lightly, if at all. However, that is precisely what is happening.
Saying these restaurants illegally opened up in narrow alleys is dubious at best, because just about every narrow alley in Taipei has businesses in them. Why not close the businesses along Yongkang Street and all the alleyways nearby? Why not close those in Gongguang, or in and around Tonghua Street? The whole of Xinyi and Daan districts are flush with businesses, in and out of the alleys. They make noise, they produce stinky wafts; why not close them too?
No, there is something more to it than just protecting residents’ rights — there is something related to money, and those who controls it are shaping this entire controversy.
The Shida area is in one of the most central parts of the city, with tens of thousands of young shoppers tantalizingly close at all times. The Shida area is a prize for any business conglomerate that can take it over and wrest control from the hands of small shop owners.
Development fever is taking over Shida and those businesses that have been established there for years are the victims. They are going to be run out and many of their owners are going to be ruined, especially those that poured everything they have into their shops. In the end, when everything is closed, there will be little or no resistance to large development projects — malls, luxury apartments, franchises and chain stores.
Shida will become like many other high-turnover business areas — soulless.
Hopefully those young shoppers, business owners, musicians, artists and interesting people who have made Shida what is, will soon find somewhere else they can call home.
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