People have been chatting about Prizemart – an independent chain of stores in Hong Kong. The website doesn’t tell you much about what to expect. The emphasis on food safety suggests some sort of trendy organic health-fad scene. The list of branches suggests something on a more industrial scale. And what do they sell, other than olive oil, milk and pistachio?
So along I go to Li Yuen Street West, one of the little alleyways full of stalls selling ultra-cheap touristy tat like kids’ kimonos and plastic watches. And there the store is: I must have passed it dozens of times, yet it had never registered, despite having an open front and the distinctive logo above it.
It is just one standard shop unit – in other words, not much bigger than an average 7-Eleven. And for a claustrophobe of dazzling financial means like me, this is where the attraction wanes. Imagine the most packed-with-items, narrowest-aisled Watson’s; now double the density of piled-up, and piled-down, merchandise, and let a dozen Filipino ladies on a leisurely shopping spree occupy the remaining floor space. It is physically possible to make a circuit round the two-aisle store (no doubling-back possible) in maybe 8 minutes, but you need to be patient. A girl stands on a chair by the front to make sure you don’t start stealing things out of impatient boredom.
But if you want bargains, you’ll find them – or at least an eclectic range of them. Some pretty decent-looking olive oil, a wide range of chocolate (like Ritter Sport), noodles galore, nuts and other items, at 50% or less of what they would cost in the normal supermarkets, in my sketchy experience.
I am advised a Wanchai branch is more user-friendly. It is almost worth any discomfort to take a swipe at the local duopoly. And for anyone on a tight budget, you’d be crazy not to look at Prizemart.