“The rule is simple: toss a coin onto a table covered with white square tiles. The prize is a pack of gum if the coin doesn’t land on the boundary of any tile.” This classic carnival game was a popular one at the old Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park well-known to any Hongkongers born before the 1970s. While the park was closed down in March 1997, you can now get a taste of the games and toys that shaped the childhoods of that generation by visiting Happy Memories at Lok Fu Place. Here the shop owner has restored the half-century-old coin toss game and presented it to the new generation as a timeless classic and cultural inheritance.
When Wilson Lau, founder of Happy Memories, decided to open the shop at the peak of the pandemic in March, many people saw it as a bold move. But to Wilson, with bearish mood spreading to every corner of the city, all he wanted to do was to do something to lift people’s spirit. “When I decided to start the business early this year, my intention was to bring back memories of the good times to Hongkongers, and to spread joy and happiness.”
While contemplating how to position the shop, Wilson thought back to the Hong Kong he experienced as a child. With no Disneyland nor even Ocean Park, it was the time when many parents would bring their children to Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park during weekends and holidays. As such, the Park has always held a special place in Hongkongers’ hearts. By bringing the old coin toss game back to life at Lok Fu Place, he hopes to share these wonderful memories with the new generation and to let more people know about this classic carnival game.
“Since Lok Fu Place is right next to the residential community, the impact of the pandemic on foot traffic hasn’t been as bad as other places. The customers are also coming from different age groups, and the current 700 square feet store allows us to build a diversified experience,” explained Wilson, whose decision has ultimately brought additional joy to the mall and the community.
Half the space in Happy Memories is taken up by the eye-catching coin toss game. At the other side is the Kiosk, which uses dark green as the main colour and is decorated with tessera tile wallpaper, beer cases, and Gashapon machines. There are four main types of goods being sold at the Kiosk: candies, snacks, ice-cream, and toys. The idea is to let different age group find things that they can relate to, from Plen T Pak Wrigley’s Chewing Gum to White Rabbit Creamy Candy to Kuai Kuai Puffcorn, and to iconic toys such as the Waterful ring toss and tin toy frog,etc.
“In addition to rediscovering old-fashioned fun through the coin toss game, I want my customers to find all those iconic candies and toys and bring them back to share with their loved ones,” says Wilson, adding how much he hopes the shop can be a bridge between different generations. In fact, its English name reflects his wish that while customers can relive the “Happy Memories” (instead of the literal translation “Old Times”) from their childhood, younger people can also learn something about the lives of the older generation.
The positioning of Happy Memories is different from other retail shops. Most of the classic merchandise sold there are considered hard-to-find items. Even with over 10 years of branding and marketing experience in Mainland China and Hong Kong, Wilson has encountered many difficulties during the sourcing process. At the beginning, the biggest problem was finding suppliers and it would require direct contact with the manufacturers or distributors in order to get things done. “Kuai Kuai, the famous snack brand, was the first that I brought in. We had to go through multiple rounds of negotiation directly with the Taiwanese manufacturers before being given the right to distribute in Hong Kong.” He was glad that although a lot of work were required, he could bring Kuai Kuai onboard. The most challenging experience, he added, was when he tried to bring in items whose production has already ceased.
“Yo-yo used to be one of our favourite toys and it was once very popular. Even television stations hosted competitions in their programmes. It’s now being taken over by electronic toys, so I had to find an OEM in Mainland China to make them. I was so glad that they didn’t mind that our order was very small. At the end we are able to revitalise a vanished product.”
While choosing merchandise, aside from personal preference, Wilson would also consider factors such as the toys’ educational value or how intriguing they are. He also likes to bring in family games as they can help parents bond with their children.
With business now stabilising after nearly six months of operation, things have begun to change. These days, some manufacturers would approach Wilson with plans for collaboration, which he considers as signs of recognition of the shop’s positioning. But what he values even more are the opportunities to interact with different customers and the joy and smile that the shop is able to bring them. By now, Happy Memories have grown into a regular hangout spot for them – some would come every day for the coin toss game. Some would even bring him food as a thank you for his effort to help them relive the good old times.
During our visit, a father came into the shop with his child for the coin toss game, showing us how much joy this simple game could bring to people of all ages. “I hope the merchandise and the game can help people recollect their happy memories, so that they can pass this DNA of happiness onto the next generation. I see this as the most meaningful part of my business.”
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