The Merry Shopkeepers of Bukchon.

There’s a neighbourhood, in Seoul, called Bukchon. Traditional and small-towny in a city of tens of millions, it’s familiar to Instagrammers worldwide.

Bukchon has many charms. There are windy hill roads and villas for which the term leafy has, undoubtedly, been coined. Ambassadors here rub elbows with Korea’s rich and powerful.

Its main charm, however, are the roads where traditional Korean houses have weathered years of harsh climate, a few major conflicts and an exponential economic growth. The handful of hanok, as they are called, are indeed cherished by anyone with a selfie stick and a social media account, and why blame them? They’re gorgeous.

The roads immediately east or west of those oh-so-Instagrammable alleys are normally left alone by tourists. Much in the same way that the least trodden path is the one where porcini mushrooms can be found, those streets have charms aplenty. And it’s all down to those who, in a deliberate if awkward reference to Shakespeare, I’ve decided to call The Merry Shopkeepers of Bukchon. Confused? Scroll down.

Every house has a shop, every shop is individually owned, and every owner has his or her photo proudly displayed outside. In elegant black-and-white tones, printed large or small on strong, sturdy canvas, they smile – or even laugh heartily – to the world, beckoning it in.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
The gulf from London, where finding a business not part of a franchise or chain is as rare as teeth in a hen’s beak, is gigantic and the attitude wholly refreshing. I find myself more inclined to stay here and to give my business to such smiley folks. Even when they just offer their backs.

It’s incredible, the difference a laughing person can make.

Or even a smiling one.

Who could be behind such an elegant campaign? Whose idea was it to turn these rather nondescript streets, these – let’s say it – normal shops into something one would love to stop at, visit and, perhaps, buy from?
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
There is a photographer’s studio on one of the streets: it’s undoubtedly the epicentre, as more portraits and photos testimony. Yet, most of our questions remain unanswered. And perhaps it’s better like this: at the end of the day, I don’t need to know the details; I’m perfectly content not to know. For me, Bukchon will forever be the borough of the Merry Shopkeepers.

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20 Responses to The Merry Shopkeepers of Bukchon.

  1. Anna says:

    What a great idea! It definitely makes you want to support the locals for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bama says:

    This is brilliant! I don’t remember seeing any of those photos during my trip to Seoul earlier this year. But then I went to Bukchon way too early in the morning when most shops were still closed. I only began understanding the importance of small businesses to a city’s scene a few years ago. Prior to that I always thought big business acquiring small ones to create a rather monotonous selection of retail options was rather a normalcy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      It is, unfortunately, a normalcy. I mean, chain shops have a purpose and do have their uses, but a city like London, where every neighbourhood has its Nando’s, its Bill’s, its GBK, its Boots, Sainsbury’s and yadda yadda yadda has lost so much, in my opinion…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh what a find! And what wonderful photographs. It’s exactly the kind of place I would be completely enchanted by. All those smiling faces made me smile!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. MELewis says:

    Great campaign and a wonderful, off-the-beaten path way look at Seoul!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. J.D. Riso says:

    Love this series, Fabrizio. Especially the one of the man in the TV. I’d rather give my business to such places, too. Thanks for the stroll.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. lexklein says:

    Must be a new thing. I love it. But I loved that neighborhood with or without the inviting photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. How lovely! Such a great idea. And yes, I definitely would like to shop in these little shops. How can anyone resist with a beautiful photograph of a smiling shopkeeper inviting one in?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Inviting and merrymaking. You find and give good porcini.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lignum Draco says:

    Away from the tourists, this is a fabulous find. I’m smiling looking at these shopfront portraits. The next step is small postcards from each shop so you can grab an autograph (and message) of the owner at each store. 🙂
    Lovely autumn colours as well. This area does seem quite picturesque.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love this find of yours and also the fact that some of the shopkeepers have their backs turned. It’s something I’d be inclined to do. 🙈 And I love this phrase, “…where finding a business not part of a franchise or chain is as rare as teeth in a hen’s beak.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Thanks BT! Speaking of shopkeepers who kept their backs turned, there was indeed one lady, who had a coffee shop, that we could only see exactly in the way she’d been photographed.

      Liked by 1 person

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