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June 6, 2013

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Access denied: Historic villas to be off limits for outsiders

THE easy access to Nanjing Road and the cozy boutiques that lined up the Jing'an Villas' historic community that gave it an old world charm will all be a thing of the past after the district administration announced yesterday that the community will be shut for outsiders.

Authorities said access control systems will be put up at the two entrances to the community by the end of this month and only residents will have the access cards, said Liu Baolan of the Jing'an government.

The district government said such stern measures were necessary to keep out illegal businesses and protect the locals who still call the 81-year-old community their home.

The move comes after three years of efforts by the Jing'an District government and local business administrators to crack down on the illegal restaurants, bars and mini cinemas inside the complex.

There are still 80-plus stores in the community. The community will be protected by 50 more surveillance cameras to keep a check on the stores.

The new measures have once again put the historic villas under the spotlight.

"It is unbelievable that the government has decided to close the community, cutting if off from the outside," said an owner of a jade store. She and many other business owners did not want to be identified.

"We will find another place for our shop, but what about all the protection and renovation works done on the old historic community? What is it all for if no one is allowed to enter and see the buildings?" she asked.

Most of the small business owners are not surprised to see a new notice on the walls of the old buildings, telling them to pack up and leave.

In the past three years, these vendors have seen many such notices from local government and industrial officials numerous times during various stages of the crackdown, but they are still running their businesses.

"I still remember the days when the industrial officers would patrol the lanes and make a surprise checks on the stores," said Zowie, who runs a private library in the community.

"Everyone is struggling to run their business in the dark and they managed to survive by all means," Zowie said. "One day I heard a restaurant owner shouting in the lanes, 'here comes the guys!' and in seconds all the stores were closed before the officers could catch them."

Since then, the small vendors, some of whom are business rivals, take turns to warn others of the arrival of the law enforcement officers.

"Sometimes the customers are still inside having dinner in the restaurants. The bosses shut off the lights but light candles to allow them to finish their dinner. It is straight out of horror movies," she said.

An art gallery owner, surnamed Ye, told Shanghai Daily that he is not happy about the crackdown as he did not disturb any residents living in the community. "We try to bring more color to the community and we keep quiet all the time. Noisy bars and dirty eateries should be closed but why should they target the galleries and libraries?" Ye asked.

However, some residents welcomed the crackdown. "The stores brought in too many visitors and cars. It gets dangerous for elderly people to walk on the narrow lane," said Wu Guoying, 54. "I will feel safe with the door access controls," said Wu.

The first wave of the crackdown in the community was in December 2010, when residents complained about the dirty and unlicensed small eateries.

Several stores, including a popular milk tea shop, were closed by the business watchdogs in 2011, but some of them found a way to reopen for business weeks later.


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