Save our Streets (2)

Antique and Unique
With its aging looks, dusty glass cabinets and antique clocks on the wall, this little clock repair shop has a lot of charm. Inside, Ratanachai Angkontee, 28, the young and amiable talks to us about his fascination with this bygone business.
How long have you been here? All my life. My father, Wanchai Angkontee, 55, learned this skill from his brother and opened the clock shop here and I learned the business from him since I was a kid.
How has the business changed? Now that Sapan Khwai has been growing so fast with more shops, malls and condos, [landlords] have hiked up the rent. Many shops are not able to keep up, so they moved away, and now there are fewer people than there used to be.
What’s your working day like? We now focus only on fixing clocks, especially old ones, as we have a lot of customers with antique timepieces. Sometimes it takes years and years to fix only one clock because it’s hard to find the parts. Anyway, our clients trust us and wait until we can make their precious antiques come back to life.
How’s business these days? It’s not really huge but it’s steady. We’re now well-known as “father and son mechanics” because we both work together. 80% of our customers are regulars who know my father, and another 10-20% are walk ins and those who learn about us from our website [].
Have you ever had other jobs? My father, no, but I used to be a webmaster before. I decided to quit when my father got a cataract in his eye, and I came back to help him.
Is there anyone asking about buying this building? No. But we rent our space in this building, and the rent goes up every year. And the contract is only year by year, so if they suddenly decided not to rent the space to us anymore, we wouldn’t have a shop at all. We might only be open through the website, since clients today just search on Google to find everything that they want. We rank high on searches if people Google about antique clock repairers, so I think it’s a new chance for our business to grow. I also plan to start our own antique clock brand.
Demolished drugstore
Walking along Phaholyothin Road in Sapankhwai, there’s plenty of advertising for the brand new luxury condos that are due to pop up there in the coming months. Here we talk to Ussanee Wiriyangul, 45, the owner of a pharmacy that’s going to be torn down soon to make way for the entrance of the new condo.
How long have you been here? At least 38 years. My family started renting this building when the neighborhood was still technically a rural area on the fringes of Bangkok. There were lots of buffalos walking around—hence the name of this area, Sapan Khwai.
What was the area like back then? A lot busier because our location is near the market. Now the business isn’t really going that well, but it’s steady. But there was a time when we had huge sales like we’d never seen before, during the Sixtieth Anniversary Celebrations of His Majesty’s Accession to the Throne. There were many royal guests from many countries. The Sultan of Brunei’s entourage came to buy all the drugs in our store. Our pockets were enough to to keep money!
Have you ever done any other business? Never. This is our family business.
What about your children? Do they take care of the business or support you to? I don’t know if they will want to inherit it from me or not. They’re still young. One of my sons is really capable. He won the gold medal in an international mathematics competition so he might continue his studies and win a scholarship.
Is there anyone asking about buying this building? It’s already been sold to developers who are building a big condominium. They told us that we have to vacate before the end of the month. All my family members are now separated. Now I have only my family and my mom. It’s reduced from 9 to 5. Others are busy with their own families or have gone off to study.
How do you feel about this? It’s pretty heartbreaking because we have lived here for so long but we have to accept it. This building isn’t ours. We have to vacate it.
These days if your zip breaks or you get a hole in your shirt you’ll probably just go and buy a new outfit, which makes street tailors a lot less popular. Kyaw Yen, 55, the man behind the sewing machine near Saphan Khwai tells us what business is like.
How long have you been here? About 7-8 years. I used to work as an aluminum worker. I was getting old so I decided to quit. I decided to do this because I already knew how to sew.
How do you run this business? I am here from 9.30am-5.30pm and just wait for customers.
Is business good? It’s not great. Still I have regular clients and I make an OK living. Sometimes I make B300-500 per day but some days I get just B20. It depends.
What about your family? I stay with my wife. There’s only the two of us so it’s OK.
Mom and pop shop
Sutthisan Road used to be all about pubs and bars. But after the entertainment venues gradually shifted to other locations and the alcohol laws got stricter, the nightlife in this area changed as well, as did the little retail shop belonging to Srinual Santisukbamroong, 69.
How long have you been here? My shop has been around 25 years, but the space itself is about 50-60 years old. I bought it from the previous owners and started my retail shop.
What was it like in the old days? There were many customers because this area used to be a busy district—lots of shops and bars. A lot of women who worked at night would come to buy stuff at our shop. Today there aren’t as many pubs, and there aren’t as many women who work at night.
How do you run this business? We only order what we know we can sell. Now we can’t sell groceries anymore, because there are no buyers. We still stock things like soap, toothpaste and alcohol. My daughter-in-law just opened a little phone kiosk in the shop to sell mobile phones and sim cards to people around our neighborhood.
Have you ever done any other business? No.
What about your children? Do they take care of this business? Yes, they are now taking care of it. I just help them.
Street books
At the foot of a stairway to BTS Thonglor, Chak Inthukate, 47, sits and waits for commuters to buy his secondhand books laid out flat on an improvised shelf wedged into the wall.
How long have you been doing this job? At least 21 years. I used to never take anything seriously. One day I decided to do something to make a living and wanted to open a book shop. I walked along the street, found a spot on Thonglor and have stayed here since then. I chose to sell secondhand books because I love books. It’s a product that lasts forever.
How have things changed? People read more and the streets are busier. It used to be a bus stop here, before the BTS. When the BTS opened, the administrators banned us from selling anything near the exits. I was lucky enough to get permission from the owner of a nearby house to set up this shelf on their wall. The other sellers had to move.
How’s business? It’s gone down again recently. Thai people normally don’t read much but it’s gotten worse with the internet. People don’t have to buy books to find something to read anymore.
How much do you earn per month? Nearly 100,000.
What would you do if you couldn’t do this anymore? I plan to get into the food business when I can’t do this anymore. I am now older, can’t carry heavy things like books like I used to. I also think the book biz will not grow anymore. It’s declining.