The retail industry is coming back to life after lockdown, but traditional farmers' markets are disappearing. The markets have weathered wars and famine for hundreds of years, selling farm produce and traditional specialty products, but now the growth of convenience stores and online shopping is proving their death knell.More than 100 markets across the country have gone out of business during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Small Enterprise and Market Service, the number of farmers' markets in Korea fell from 1,610 in 2006 to 1,401 in 2020 and the decline was even sharper in the last two years. Shops that managed to deliver their products or cater to take-out customers managed to stay afloat, but vendors of clothes, shoes, household products, meat and fish are having a tough time trying to stay open.Park Young-an, who represents merchants at Ahyeon Market in Mapo, said, "Some shops in the market have expanded thanks to a rise in takeout customers, but others that couldn't go online are suffering a lot."
The advancing age of stallholders makes it difficult for markets to appeal to a younger crowd. Their average age rose from 55.2 in 2013 to 59.7 in 2020. One merchant in Seoul said, "The average age of market vendors here is over 60. When times were good, many were able to pass their businesses on to their children, but not any more." Surging real estate values in recent years have also pushed farmers' markets in central areas out to build apartments, hotels and office buildings.Jangwi Market in Seongbuk-dong in northeastern Seoul was redeveloped for apartments, cutting its size in half. One third of merchants closed and many others had to relocate.Another merchant said, "Stallholders in farmers' markets in prime areas of downtown Seoul have no choice but to pack up and leave if the city asks them to make room for redevelopment. Around 30 percent of markets in Seoul will disappear by 2030." The move online by many merchants during the pandemic ended up increasing vacancy rates as well because they no longer felt the need to keep their offline shops open.One 43-year-old clothing vendor in Dongdaemun Market closed the stall down and moved to a small office. She now sells clothes via Instagram and KakaoTalk from the office."I can get orders from many retailers online, so it's easier to do business and I can also save on rent," she said.