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August 26, 2019

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Tiny store records big tales of ordinary lives

A TINY “story store,” once a dumpling shop on Yuyuan Road, has become a popular attraction for customers to share their stories about the historic road.

The non-profit project inspired by the Japanese novel “Miracles of the Namiya General Store” — in which a general store owner becomes an agony aunt for locals — is attracting curious spectators every day and night with its ideal location on the sidewalk along the century-old road in Changning District.

Tiny stores, like tiny houses, are alternatives to traditional constructions — offering full services but taking up little space.

Creater, the firm in charge of an ongoing revamping of the road, invited residents, designers and employees living or working nearby to serve as duty managers through the end of October.

The voluntary managers can exchange services such as free painting, photography, yoga sessions or guitar repairing with stories from visitors, or simply ask passers-by to write down their stories on pieces of cards. Over 40 managers have been recruited who will run the store for at least one day each.

Over 200 stories have been collected since the store opened a week ago. The stories on the cards are being displayed in the transparent structure for others to read.

“The store aims to further explore the history and culture of the historic road not only about the celebrities once lived here but also ordinary citizens who may spend their life on the road or have just moved to the city,” said an official with Creater in charge of the project.

The road — which dates back to 1911, the final year of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) — runs through the districts of Changning and Jing’an. In recent decades it has been shortened to its current length of 800 meters.

There are 108 historical villas along the road, including many former residences of celebrities, such as missile and space scientist Qian Xuesen (1911-2009) and pianist Gu Shengying (1937-1967).

“We worried at the beginning that such a novel project would attract young people only,” said the official surnamed Xu. “But many senior residents have been taking an active part in.”

Chen Xiangzhi, about 80, has been living on the road for over four decades. He lived in the eastern section after being married from 1966 until his wife died in 1991. He moved back west end of the road in 2004.

“I have witnessed the development of the road, while the road also witnessed my half-life of grief and joy,” said Chen.

He wrote a poem about his experiences on the road on one of the cards in the store.

Guo Xuebin, another customer, wrote: “My street shop was opened on the road in 2003 which helped me get married and have two sons, but I was informed recently that I may have to shut down the business soon.”

A hairdresser in his 50s whose barbershop is next to Guo’s wrote: “As long as you come, I will perform a dance on your head and make you happy.”

The organizer plans to pick 101 stories from the cards and make them into a small storybook. The books will be presented to those who are willing to learn about the road as a souvenir.

The tiny structure was originally built as a room for security guards and later became a popular dumpling store.

Although it looks like an illegal structure, the small house on a sidewalk near the entrance of an old residential community has been legally registered, dating back more than half a century. Creater rented the site and invited an artist team to host exhibition in 2018. Several monthly exhibitions themed on fallen leaves and the blue ocean have made the site a popular attraction.

The former dumpling shop has been moved into the newly developed Yuyuan Public Market nearby, where residents can buy traditional Shanghai breakfast foods, get new keys cut or fix a broken umbrella. The market opened on February 28.

Yang Lei, 25, a local graphic designer, was invited to redesign the house into the story shop early this year.

He originally used bright yellow paint to attract customers, but later changed to the current green of the tall plane trees on both sides of the road a cream yellow which is widely used on nearby villas and houses in the area.

“The previous art exhibitions aimed to express the thinking of the artists, but this project tries to listen to the customers,” Yang said.

He has applied to serve as a manager in the store to mainly collect “stories happened at night” on the road.

“One day at 4am, I saw a driver sitting in his car on the roadside, smoking and pondering.

“I was curious about his and others’ stories and the store offers a method to learn.”

Two young women, Sun Bai and Lu Wen, working for a nearby culture company, were the managers on duty over the weekend.

They not only asked customers to write down stories but also made video interviews of each of them.

“I’m eager to communicate with the familiar faces I meet every day on my way to work, such as security guards, aunties and store owners,” Sun said.

The new graduate who moved to work in Shanghai two months ago said she wanted to learn more about the road through the story shop.

“Otherwise, my life in the city would be all about work.”

The project is part of the ongoing campaign by the Jiangsu Road Subdistrict and Creater to launch a number of micro-revamping projects in old residential communities along the road.

For instance, the exterior walls of 15 buildings in the Qishan Village community, characteristic Shanghai lane houses built in the 1920s, have been refurbished and restored.

Termites that once infested the brick-and-wood structures have been exterminated and rotten pillars replaced with new ones.

Shared kitchens have been upgraded and most overhead cables are now buried, greatly improving the neighborhood.


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