Known as “Exotic Cuisines Street” (異國美食街) for its variety of restaurants, Pucheng Sreet, Lane 13 (浦城街13巷), is usually filled with customers during lunchtime. But on Thursday afternoon, the street was empty and nearly two dozen stores were shuttered. Business owners were protesting measures by the city government targeting the Shida Night Market (師大夜市) area that could potentially force most of them out of business. As of yesterday, at least four stores on the street said they had received letters from the city government ordering them to close by the middle of next month.
At issue is a Taipei City urban planning law (都市計畫法) that says retail businesses cannot operate on streets that, like Pucheng St, Lane 13, are less than 8m wide. Overcrowding, noise and pollution have angered residents for years, while business owners say they have not been given a chance to improve. Both agree on one thing: the city government’s attitude toward zoning laws is frustrating and inconsistent.
“They tell the media that they will communicate with business owners, but they haven’t. Their method of communication is to send out form letters,” says James Parng (龐維良), the chief of Longquan neighborhood (龍泉里), where much of Shida Night Market is located.
Many establishments are now anxiously waiting to hear from the city government. In Zabu (雜舖), staffers asked customers for their e-mail addresses just in case the cafe was forced to move, while other popular restaurants, like Grandma Nitti’s and My Sweetie Pie, were still uncertain about their future yesterday afternoon.
“Everyone is nervous. As soon as they see a postal worker, they get scared,” says Yan Ting-guang (顏廷光), director of the Shida Shopping District Development Promotion Association (師大商圈發展促進會).
shidahood.pixnet.net/blog: Blog maintained by the Shida Self-Help Association
iloveshida.blogspot.com: An English-language blog supporting store and restaurant owners in the Shida Night Market area
www.facebook.com/iloveshida: Facebook page maintained by the Allied Guardians of Shida Commercial
According to Allied Guardians of Shida Commercial (守護師大商圈聯盟), an advocacy group for business owners, more than 600 retail establishments are at risk of receiving a cease-and-desist notice.
Store owners point out that many of them have operated for years, and the night market and neighborhood have even been promoted in publications by the city’s Department of Culture (文化局) and the Department of Information and Tourism (觀光傳播局).
“They told us this is not a business district, but we’ve been here for eight years and we thought it was a little late to tell us,” says Shen Ming-lie (沈明烈), co-owner of Taifong Restaurant (泰風小館), one of the restaurants located on Pucheng St, Lane 13, that has been ordered to close.
Many residents, however, say the government has taken too long to respond to their complaints about intolerable levels of foot traffic, noise and pollution.
“It’s their night market, but our nightmare,” says Liu Jhen-wei (劉振偉), who has lived in the neighborhood for 46 years and founded the Shida Self-Help Association (師大三里自救會), a residents’ advocacy group founded. The association currently consists of a committee of 14 members who represent 1,000 to 2,000 residents in the area, says Liu.
Residents complained for years before a series of meetings organized by the Shida Self-Help Association finally caught the attention of the city government, says Liu. After the first meeting in November last year, an ad-hoc committee headed by deputy mayor Chen Hsiung-wen (陳雄文) was created to address residents’ concerns.
Though the area around Shida Road has been a popular shopping and dining destination since the Guting (古亭) and Taipower Building (台電大樓) MRT stations opened in 1998 and 1999, respectively, the number of retail establishments has rapidly increased over the past two years. Some landlords have carved single storefronts into multiple spaces. Though tiny, they can command between NT$10,000 to NT$30,000 in rent a month, according to local business owners.