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Friday, January 07, 2005

"Department store" in Bukpyeon, Southern Jeolla

About the same time when a Finnish daily had an article how it's virtually impossible for a village shop to survive in a village of 200 inhabitants (in case all the villagers did all their grocery shopping in the shop and never drove to a larger store, the shopkeepers would earn some 1200 euros a month...), Ohmynews has a story of a "department store" (paekhwajôm), which is one of four shops in a village (or actually two villages) of 170 households.
The shop stocks everything. Candy, soft drinks, groceries, liquor, daily necessities, basketballs, chili grinding machine, handcart wheels, water taps, water hoses, pesticides etc. If villagers need, the keeper takes even a long distance and installs it. Everything gets fixed when the keeper of Yeongjeon Department Store Kim Byeong-chae does it. He's the McGyver of Bukpyeong.
(Wonderful to see "McGyver" used in the same sense in Korea as in Finland - such is the power of the international TV entertainment to create concepts. For example what in the US is to my knowledge called "duct tape", is called "Jesus tape" or "McGyver tape" in Finland, among others.)


Yeongjeon Department Store (paekhwajôm) in Bukpyeon, Southern Jeolla. (c) Kim Jun 2005

Handcart wheels. (c) Kim Jun 2005
Back in the 1970s when the area had 300 households instead of the present 170, shopkeeping was also good. Seaweed (kim) cultivation gave good income, people had cash and were using it. There were 16 shops in the area, "and even dogs went around carrying 5000 won bills."

(Another example of the use of "dog" in association of money; remember the proverb "not even a dog touches business money", 장삿돈 개도 안 물어간다. Also about dogs and shopkeeper's shit - see an earlier note about Cheonggyecheon traders - "not even a dog eats trader's shit, 장사똥 개도 안 먹는다.)

And now back to the "department store" in the seaside village. The couple that's now keeping the place were already leaving the village for Gwangju, where they acquired a house for the sake of children's education, but seems they never made the final move, and now they have the shop which the man inherited from his father. (This is quite rare among this kind of business keepers!) As the keepers enlarged the shop and the selection of merchandise expanded, villagers suggested the name be changed from "Kyodong Super" to "Manmulsang". Instead of that, a more modern-sounding "Paekhwajôm" was adopted, attached to the name of the village, and thus it got its present name. (Manmulsang 萬物商, "10000 item trade"; paekhwajôm百貨店, "100 goods store")

Yeongjeong Department Store is doing quite well in competition with the Agricultural Cooperative (Nonghyôp) Mart in the vicinity; not better prices but better service and better selection. Actually this department store is not just a village store but used by people from a rather large area; it's especially the good selection of items related to agriculture that draws customers. The shop is also a focal point for many kinds of deliveries (t'aekpae) coming to and going from the village. What has changed is that traditional festivities are no more good for business, so few people coming to the village in those periods; instead, tourism in the summer is crucial.

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