Michele Humes (I live in New York and I write about food.)

I’m Going To Get All Choked Up About This Hong Kong Mini-Mall

Recently I was back in Hong Kong for a few days, where it hit me, as it always hits me, that there is no space here. There really isn’t. It’s already a tiny place, and then most of it slopes so steeply that you can’t build on it. Even after reclaiming tons of land from the harbor, the total developed area is only about a quarter the size of New York City, and yet it houses 7.1 million inhabitants to New York’s already cramped 8.2. It’s pretty nuts.

I don’t know why, but there’s something about people adapting to–flourishing in!–minute spaces that gets me all blubbery. I guess it’s the frugality of it, the resourcefulness, the crazy gumption. Last year I tweeted these photos of a minuscule Seoul restaurant operating in the wedgespace beneath a flight of stairs. Now I want to tell you about a Hong Kong mini-mall in a similar spirit that my mother took me to see in person. I’d never seen anything like it.

Now, picture a big corporate office, a maze of corridors and cubicles…

…only in each cubicle, instead of a computer and a desk and a worker who’s chained to it, is a self-contained enterprise.

It might be the showroom of a custom bakery…

…or it might be a wine store! This one is called Vintage Vins, specializes in grand cru Bordeaux, and operates out of a space smaller than my bathroom:

A few doors down, a daycare center works out of a slightly larger unit:

At the end of the hall, this yoga studio has just enough space for one-on-one sessions:

And, really, how much more space do you need? It’s yoga, not rhythmic gymnastics.

I love that these people haven’t let one of the world’s highest commercial real estate rental rates (on average, you’ll pay about US$160 per square foot, per month) get in the way of starting the business they want to start. Instead, they pare their concept down to its very core, and present it to the world in dignified, even proud austerity.

This mini-mall is part of the Solo chain (plenty more pictures on their website), of which there are currently four outposts. Showroom units range from 110 to 188 square feet, and are used to sell everything from wedding dresses to gel manicures.