Take A Look Inside The Coolest Junk Shop In Beijing

random items, shopping, swap shop, wudaoying hutong, beijing, china, october 2011, bi, dng

Photo: Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

In a little alley off a street in Beijing sits the Swap Shop, a small store that sells everything but buys nothing. How does it work…it swaps!

Check out the Swap Shop >
When Robin Liao and his wife Judy, started the shop, they weren’t sure what exactly it would become. But a little over a year after it began they settled on the idea of a shop where customers trade in old products for store credit. Basically, a return to the old barter and trade system with a twist.

Robin and Judy used to run a popular bar called Together Bar, which introduced them to an eclectic group of patrons and friends who later filled their new store with an array of goods from around the world.

The swap idea is part business and part ideals. From a business perspective, Robin has seriously reduced his overhead. All items are given to the store in exchange for credit, NOT cash (even the price tags were a swap). So aside from rent and electricity (there is no heat in the tiny shop) no cash is spent.

Beyond the cash savings, Robin likes the idea of preserving and reusing as opposed to wasting old items. As he likes to say, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” And yes, he knows that the line comes from someone else.

First find Wudaoying Hutong – it is across from the Lama Temple on Beijing's North 2nd Ring Road.

Walk down Wudaoying until you come to this alley.

Here is Robin Liao in front of his store.

The store stands for more than just sales and Robin hopes customers don't just change their old things for new but also their old ideas and perspectives.

And here is Judy, Robin's wife, behind the register. She handles all the valuations of trade ins.

One of the many signs Robin uses to explain the store to customers. Almost all signs are in English and Chinese.

Originally, Robin and Judy had planned to sell faux-antique models like this vintage car.

Instead they decided to find a business model that would also contribute to their own personal belief in sustainable living. The Diggers refers to those intrepid shoppers willing to hunt for the unique.

The shop is very cozy.

But still attracts plenty of shoppers.

They are often curious about the products, many of which are not available any where else in China.

Like this drummer, or markers from South Korea, and a Disney toy from Italy.

Before Swap Shop, Robin and Judy ran a place called Together Bar. Many of the bar's customers were foreigners and they are the source of many of the new shop's items.

Robin shows some of his favourite items.

Like this Dominos set he got from an Australian friend.

Imports.

How it works.

The outside rack holds items that are being sold for only RMB 5, less than a US dollar.

Like this bag!

Or this camel.

Local kids like to stop by the shop after school to see what is new.

The Rubik's cube didn't catch their eye.

The sign alerts visitors to check out the Swap Shop on Sina Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging service similar to Twitter.

But not everything in the store is for sale. Like this coffee maker. However, there is a still a communal deal involved...if you bring a bag of coffee to donate you can get a free cup any time you shop.

(Coffee maker not for sale)

The front display gives a good example of the range of products you might find on a given day at the Swap Shop.

Hats of all shapes, style, and colours.

Hand bags and cameras old and older.

Clocks from another time.

Or some removable fingers.

Because it is a swap shop they end up with a lot of old electronics.

There is also a large collection of Hello Kitty themed items.

And lots of cute figurines.

And some toys we'd never seen before, like this Philippine Jeepney.

All variety of scarves.

Even a Spiderman nightlight.

I wasn't sure where this originally came from.

Words that Robin and Judy live by and that led them to their store.

Want to see more interesting shopping experiences in China?

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