In recent years, more people have chosen to open fashion shops, cafes, and restaurants in old apartment buildings in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.
Such shops have increasingly appealed to clients, particularly young people, with their striking interior design, good products, and service at affordable prices.
The shops with their dazzling fronts have breathed new life and vivacity into old apartment buildings, which usually have a worn, messy look.
Boutique-like décor, unique concepts
The century-old apartment building at 14 Ton That Dam Street in District 1, where most residents are retirees or people working for stage agencies, is now home to seven or eight cafés and fashion shops.
The cafés bear curious names such as Banksy, Mockingbird, Things, and The Other Person.
The apartment building at 26 Ly Tu Trong Street, also in District 1, has also changed its face with several cafés, including Luth, Bong Cai Xanh, and La Fenêtre de Soleil – which was one of the first apartment-housed cafés in the city.
Another building at 158D Pasteur Street has also become an ideal rendezvous for young people, with cafés called She, Gabi, Coffee Book Shop, and The Print Room.
Youngsters now also frequent Downtown Café (on the ground floor of the Horizon Building, 214 Tran Quang Khai Street), L'Usine Café (151 Dong Khoi Street), Loft Café (158/5 Nguyen Cong Tru Street), and Casbah Café (59 Nguyen Du Street) in District 1.
Some others are L'Appartement Cafe Restaurant (95 Pasteur Street), Princess And The Pea Café (63/18 Pasteur Street) in District 1, and Hi Café (at My Phuoc Apartment Bldg, 280 Bui Huu Nghia Street, Binh Thanh District).
Though most of these cafés are not spacious, their owners, most of whom are artists, architects, or art fanatics, bring the best out of their limited space with visually-striking, themed décor, a cozy atmosphere with fresh flowers, and relaxing lounge music.
Several owners also create a nostalgic atmosphere with old objects, or provide local youngsters with niches with decorations in “manga” (Japanese comics), “cosplay” (wearing costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea in comics), or eerie images.
Such cafés have their own clientele, with some appealing to office workers, while others are a draw to students.
Clients can work with their laptop, have lunch, and even take a nap at some of the shops.
Tea shops, eateries, self-designed fashion stores, and even bridal gown shops are also found in the buildings, such as Partea (at 42 Nguyen Hue Street, District 1), which offers British tea; You Cong (at 42 Ton That Thiep Street, District 1); and Zinnia Shop (5th Floor of Apartment Bldg 14, Nguyen Hue Street).
Such shops have become strong contenders against the fashion stores selling ready-made or brand-name clothes.
The items are gaining appeal among local youths as they are trendy, unique, and custom-made, shop owners explained.
In addition, with self-designed items, shop owners can showcase their boundless creativity and uniqueness and take meticulous care of their products.
Thriving business, all benefit
La Nha Nghi, You Cong’s owner, shared that her business, which was launched last year, is doing quite well, as her shop offers good food at affordable prices compared to other shops in the downtown area.
She is planning to make a long-term investment as the apartment rent, US$650 a month, is acceptable.
The apartment building at 42 Nguyen Hue Street, District 1, has apartments as narrow as 20m² and 50m², but also boasts several cafés and eateries.
According to Dao Thi Hong Chau, who grew up in the building and serves as the rental intermediary, in the past year, more people have rented the apartments to open shops.
The rent varies from VND2.5 million to VND7-8 million (up to $377) a month, depending on the location of the rooms.
Nguyen Le Quynh Nhu, 20, is renting a 20m² room on the building’s ninth floor for VND5 million a month for her Neuf fashion shop.
“After three months, my shop is doing quite well. The rent is affordable and the location in the downtown area is ideal for my business. Local young people also love to explore new, intriguing places, so opening shops in apartment buildings is a good choice for me,” Nhu shared.
“Shops inside old apartment buildings downtown are quite easy for customers to get to. Customers can also relish the novelty of discovering new places, instead of dropping by haphazard shops on the street,” noted Tuyp Tran, the owner of MayHem Shop, 136/10 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1.
Le Minh Ngoc, 20, a regular at the shop, explained that unlike shopping malls, apartment-housed stores give her a serene, special feeling, as well as high-quality, self-designed clothing items at reasonable prices.
Several young clients also pose for photos with the new outfits they buy against the shops’ tasteful studio-like backdrop. A few households in the buildings have also launched their own shops.
Bui Phuong Anh, a resident of the apartment building at 14 Ton That Dam Street, opened her fashion shop – Bui – right in her apartment one year ago.
It minimizes her business costs, allowing her time to take care of her two children, while also earning money and having social interactions at the same time.
Nguyen Thi Lan, a resident of the apartment building at 42 Ton That Thiep Street, noted that the launch of the shops has made the atmosphere livelier, particularly as many once-vacated apartments are now occupied by shop owner tenants.
Households on the ground floors also benefit from offering bike parking services.
Several shops have become popular and sometimes provide settings for scenes in films.
Nghi, the owner of You Cong Café, shared that her shop is occasionally used for film and photo shoots. She also sometimes invites a group of theater actors to perform at her café, which appeals to the building’s residents.
Bui Duc Luong, 64, who is the leader of the area where the 14 Ton That Dam Street apartment building is located, said that he and the local police carry out regular inspections at the shops to ensure that rules on security and hygiene are strictly conformed to.
Most shops have sound-proof walls to minimize any noise and commotion which may perturb neighboring households.