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November 25, 2011

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Raid shuts villas milk tea shop

LAW enforcement officers piled up at the historic Jing'an Villas yesterday to shut down a popular but unlicensed milk tea shop in front of shocked customers forming a long queue in the cold air.

Denny House, the milk tea shop, was among 80-plus small businesses opened for years in the 79-year-old villas lane, along downtown Nanjing Road W. It was the most popular of its kind in the area, with hundreds of local fans.

But now, in front of those very fans, the shop became probably the first unlicensed store to be shut down in a second wave of crackdowns by the Jing'an District Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau to clean up the massive unlicensed stores that they believe are threatening the old villas.

The action has once again put the historic villas community under the spotlight, leading to heated debates about the future of the unlicensed stores, which survived the first wave of crackdowns last December.

They kept running illegal business by playing hide-and-seek with law enforcement teams since then.

At lunchtime yesterday when the officers charged into the lane for their crackdown, Hou Jiyong, owner of an eatery in the lane, flattened himself against the store's closed door, holding his breath, pretending nobody was home.

Two minutes earlier, he had gotten a tip that authorities were on the way, and he asked two of his customers - who were still finishing their dishes - to leave.

He closed the door and hid the business, a process that could be completed in one minute thanks to the past year of "training" as authorities patrolled regularly.

"Even my customers were not annoyed by the sudden shutdown as they knew it was the only way that the stores may survive" said Hou.

Denny Wang, owner of the closed tea shop, later told Shanghai Daily he didn't temporarily shut down his store as almost all the others did because he didn't want his customers to wait in the long queue in cold air for nothing.

He paid a heavy price but he promised that he would find somewhere else to open up another milk tea shop, licensed and legal.

In December last year, unlicensed stores received warnings to pack up and leave or face a 50,000 yuan fine after residents complained about them.

Regular checks were then carried out almost every week in the lane, but they were largely regarded with disdain by the store vendors. Many joked by calling the enforcement actions a "date," as they were always done by an industry and commerce officer accompanied by an urban management officer who could be spotted walking through the lane.

The 50,000 yuan fine turned out to be just a warning. Some vendors even folded the warning papers into paper airplanes. After the first crackdown, the number of stores actually grew.

Local industry and commerce administration said it would hold a meeting today to discuss what to do next.

The eateries, cafes and tea shops on the ground floor of apartments in the community have long been a headache to some elderly residents living upstairs, but they also are favorites to some white-collar workers seeking cheap yet stylish venues.


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