Our first impressions of Hello Mart in Liangmaqiao is that it’s the apex of massive forces currently reworking Beijing’s consumer landscape. The new sprawling 7,000sqm food court/craft beer bar/grocery store/crafts emporium/English school/ice cream dispensary/art store appears to be a prototype for the type of “mall without walls” shopping experience that (if the government has its way) will pockmark the city as a replacement of the shops, restaurants, and mom and pop grocery stores being forced to close in the name of “beautification” and population control.
Speaking as someone who lives in this area, Hello Mart could potentially be very convenient given the dearth of small grocers nearby. Granted, Sanyuanli Market – considered one of the best places to buy niche Western food items in Beijing – is a couple of blocks away and there is a smattering of smaller grocery stores on Maizidian to the south, but the prices you’ll pay at Hello Mart, no matter how fresh the produce, are not going to draw anyone in for a weekly shop. Then there’s the packaging, which is like BHG on steroids – almost everything is individually wrapped (sorry, zero-wasters) – which in a bizarro-land way kind of makes sense, considering how long it’s likely to sit on the shelves.
There are, however, some upsides to having a pricey dry foods section; namely, that it’s stocked with some hard-to-find products that warrant the hundreds of kuai you’re desperate to blow. If it’s Italian cooking oils, foie gras imported from France, or a 1977 bottle of Maotai you’re after (c’mon, it’s only RMB 100,000!) then you know where you to go. As for everything else, you’re probably able to find it in your closest Jenny Lou’s.
Speaking of which, that foreigner favorite has teamed up with Hello Mart to provide reasonably priced and expansive wine and cheese sections. This may in fact be the most practical part of the store, and a godsend should you be on the hunt for last-minute dinner party provisions.
Then there’s the neat beer fridge area that wraps around into a Ram Beer-operated 30-plus-tap bar. Again, don’t expect this place to usurp your local bottle bar given the prices (RMB 40-60 for 330ml or plus RMB 20 for 500ml), and the mall atmosphere, but it’s well-equipped and stacks a decent range of limited edition brews in the fridge if you’re looking for a treat.
Finally, there’s the food court. No doubt that the selection of noodles, Chinese snacks-on-sticks, seafood, and overpriced attempts at Western food will be popular among locals and nearby embassy and hotel staff (it was very busy when we first dropped by for a mid-week lunch) but the options will get old quite quickly. Vegetables are scarce save for one six-option salad station, and the huge seafood tanks are more akin to what you might find at a high-end Chinese restaurant rather than the back of a food court (as such, it boasts “the longest LED screen in Beijing”).
Couple these aspects with the adjoining Land of Grain bakery, an overpriced café, lots of forlorn-looking arts and craft dealers dotted throughout, a space dedicated to modern art, a small playschool, and themed private dining rooms for hire at RMB 500 a pop, and you get a space that sells a lot but doesn’t really know what it wants to be.
To put it bluntly: If this is what government-mandated shopping utopia looks like in Beijing, we’ll a) need a bigger paycheck and b) be ready to kiss goodbye to the vestiges of charm that the city has to offer. But hey, if those things don’t concern you, Hello Mart is convenient as all hell.
Daily 9am-10pm. 48 Liangmaqiao Road, Chaoyang District (5382 2114)
Photos courtesy of Hello Mart, Anna Pellegrin Hartley, Tautvile Daugelaite