A Hong Kong children’s clothing chain that set off a political controversy by displaying an anti-government statue at one of its stores has been told it has 21 days to vacate the mall location after its lease expired on Tuesday.
Chickeeduck founder and CEO Herbert Chow Siu-lung said he was “suddenly” told he had to vacate the store in Tsuen Wan’s D-Park shopping centre despite a prior email agreement – before the controversy – that would have allowed him to stay until September.
Chow accused the operator of the shopping centre and its management company, which is part of the New World conglomerate, of “political suppression”.
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New World Development has been contacted for comment.
The shop became the focus of a political flare-up after prominently displaying a statue, versions of which have been seen elsewhere, that depicted a protester in a gas mask and helmet. It holds an umbrella in one hand and a black flag in the other bearing the anti-government slogan: “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”.
The shopping centre ordered the statue removed two weeks ago, citing various breaches of contract and noting that decorations must be “at all times maintained to a standard appropriate to a first-class shopping centre and to the satisfaction of the landlord”.
The retailer took issue with the letter and declined to remove the statue without further clarification.
“My feeling is that it is political suppression and they are ganging up with whoever the highest authority is to apply political pressure in the last couple of weeks … and now they are trying to get rid of us,” Chow said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
My feeling is that it is political suppression and they are ganging up with whoever the highest authority is to apply political pressure in the last couple of weeks
Chickeeduck CEO Herbert Chow
According to Chow, the landlord sent him a WhatsApp message on Tuesday morning, asking if he had seen the email sent the night before. Chow was told he would be evicted in 21 days, with no rationale offered
Chow said the decision came as a surprise, as while the D-Park store’s existing agreement was due to expire on Tuesday, Chickeeduck had reached an in-principle agreement to stay until September.
He added: “I am disappointed, because Adrian Cheng Chi-kong [New World Development CEO and executive vice-chairman] is supposed to have the reputation of an art lover, and when you love art, you shouldn’t be politically sensitive.”
The shop drew customers in droves, many of whom turned up specifically to show support for the display and the city’s so-called yellow economic circle, which urges residents to buy from local businesses that have openly identified with the protest movement.
But it also drew the ire of others including former city leader Leung Chun-ying.
Chickeeduck has 12 other stores at shopping malls across the city including Harbour City and K11 Musea in Tsim Sha Tsui.
In response to media enquiries, a D-Park spokesman said the tenant’s three-year lease expired on Tuesday. It also said the mall had never signed any lease renewal agreement with the tenant.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday evening, Chow accepted, after consulting his lawyers, that the shopping centre’s landlord was within his rights to eject Chickeeduck.
“I’ve spoken to my lawyers and they say yes, technically anything that is subject to a contract is not valid without it. But we don’t do business like that. We’ve renewed several leases for our 13 shops for which we’ve had transitional periods of offer letters that were subject to contracts that had not been fulfilled. This is the very first one, so it’s a very lame excuse,” the Chickeeduck founder said.
The ousting of the Chickeeduck store is based on an email agreement on June 3 from the landlord, which Chow showed in a large poster format: “As per our conversation, we are pleased to inform you that your proposed extension offer has been accepted by the landlord,” the email said, noting “subject to final approval by the landlord.”
The subsequent termination of tenancy letter dated June 29 confirmed the store closure, but without any elaboration.
Chickeeduck has received the government subsidy to keep staff employed, but with the premature closure of the Tsuen Wan shop, it placed five jobs at risk. Chow said the authorities should recoup any money for staff laid off from New World for its actions.
Companies that get the employment subsidy are not allowed to lay off employees.
Chow asked New World to kick him out of another related shopping centre, K11 Musea, if they had political differences.
“New World is telling us that if you want to be on our premises, if you want to be our business partner, we have to stand on the same side politically. So here is my message: we do not stand on the same side, so please kick me out of K11 as well,” he said.
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More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong protests: mall orders children’s clothing store to take down statue glorifying movement
- Hong Kong kids’ clothing chain Chickeeduck will not remove protester statue from store, founder says