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70,000 stores, and still counting

Updated: 2013-01-25 11:57
By Zhang Haizhou ( China Daily)

70,000 stores, and still counting

The market cluster of Yiwu International Trade City. Zhang Jiancheng / for China Daily

Not so long ago farners traded chicken feathers for sugar in YIWU - now it's the world's biggest shopping center

Few people would include Yiwu International Trade City when asked to name the top 10 biggest shopping malls in the world.

Many might have the Dubai Mall in the UAE, perhaps 1 Utama in Malaysia, or CentralWorld in Thailand on their list, but the YITC is actually much bigger than any of these.

Then again, it may be wrong to classify the YITC as a shopping mall as it doesn't have a cinema, other entertainment or leisure facilities, or even a luxury goods store. But with 70,000 stalls in five zones covering an area of 4.3 million square meters, it can at least lay claim to being the largest shopping complex in the world.

Yiwu 30 years ago was just an "impoverished agricultural town with a lot of people but not enough resources", according to the YITC's official website.

Yet doing business has been a long-time pursuit of local people. Yiwu's street vendors had a tradition of swapping chicken feathers from farmers (to make dusters) for brown sugar produced in the town.

Then, in 1982, the local government decided to allow farmers to do business, and a shabby market, the predecessor of the YITC, opened in town. Sales of the market reached 23.21 million yuan ($8.29 million according to exchange rate then) in 1984 when most commodities were sold to neighboring townships and cities.

The market had 2,847 booths by the end of 1985 and total sales broke the 100-million-yuan mark ($31.15 million then) the following year.

After twice being rebuilt and renovated, the market extended to over 44,000 sq m, housing 4,096 booths in autumn 1986, and in 1990 it became the largest wholesale market for small commodities.

Total sales reached 1 billion yuan a year later, and with rapid growth continuing, surpassed 10 billion yuan in 1994.

Having outgrown its original site, the local government decided to move the market out to the suburbs, and in October 2002, Zone 1 of the YITC was completed, housing more than 10,000 booths in a four-story building, specializing mostly in toys, jewelry and ornaments.

Zones 2, 3 and 4 opened in the following years, comprising stores selling hardware and metal goods, stationery, cosmetics, clothing and accessories. Zone 5, or the Imported Commodities Hall, opened in May 2011. The five zones now offer more than 1.7 million kinds of goods.

The State Council in 2011 approved Yiwu as a pilot city for international trade reform. Its GDP reached 72.61 billion yuan in 2011, 10.5 percent up from 2010. Its GDP per capita reached $15,000 that year.

A total of 3,080 foreign companies have set up offices in Yiwu, including 18 global shipping companies, and there are 429 foreign-funded partnership enterprises.

Contact the writer at zhanghaizhou@chinadaily.com.cn

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