Originally from Rhode Island, David Henry has been living and working in Shanghai for 25 years. Having taught English and Intercultural Communications at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) for 20 years, 12 years ago he started a coffee roasting business: Jonas Emil Coffee Roasters. He’s also the man behind Jiashan Lane Market, which is back soon, COVID permittng. Time to catch up for a chat, we thought…
How did Jiashan Lane Market come about?
Back when we started the coffee roasting business, there were a number of expats in Shanghai that had started businesses in the F&B area. It was hard to find good ‘food from home’ that we missed, so we all got the notion to make and sell these home-style foods.
Amelia Heaton-Renshaw’s Amelia’s British Jams and Chutneys, James Stockdale’s British Kitchen, Lexie Comstock’s Strictly Cookies, Lexie Morris’ Lollipop Bakery, Christine Asuncion’s Spread the Bagel, the Pierogie Ladies, Ambrosia Dairy, Jonas Emil Coffee, the Wine Guy, etc. We made a pretty close-knit group.
There were limited venues for selling these goods: school fairs at the few international schools in Shanghai at that time, women’s clubs and the like, and we’d see each other at these events.
Then the Jiashan Market group opened a repurposed factory complex in the neighborhood where many of us lived and worked. They were looking for a European-style farmers market to bring people to their site, which was hidden away between Jiashan Lu and Shaanxi Nan Lu, and they engaged Amelia to organize it.
When and how did you take over organizing the market?
From the beginning, the market has been organized by one of the vendors of the market. Amelia Heaton-Renshaw was a charismatic personality who brought people together. She then sold her business, Amelia’s Jams and Chutneys, to Sarah and James Butler and they took over the market for a few years, and then they moved on to bigger and better things.
It seemed like the market ought to be continued by one of the vendors. Part of what made it work was the almost communal spirit of the group. The market wasn’t quite big enough to support a dedicated administrator. I had been there since the first market, and we had made it our business location for Jonas Emil Coffee, so it made sense to take on the organizing responsibilities.
For people who have never been to Jiashan Market, what can they expect?
First, expect to engage on a short search expedition. The market is tucked away off a main street, down a pedestrian lane and then down a sidewalk to a courtyard nestled in a refurbished factory complex. It’s not easy for a newcomer to find, but it’s far enough off the street that parents can safely loosen the reins on young children.
Then, expect a small, intimate market. The courtyard holds 30+ vendors. The space is not expandable. This creates a need for us to be selective in vendors to provide an interesting mix of quality products.
Expect us to be there. We meet rain or shine. We never cancel because of weather. Maybe it’s raining in the morning but clears up around noon. Come on down, we’re there, every first and third Saturday of the month (except for July, August and February).
Expect to experience the ‘Jiashan vibe,’ a relaxed, familial feeling as friends meet over food and drink from our local food vendors while catching up on personal news since they last met.
What is the Jiashan Market philosophy?
The market is a social essential. Jiashan Lane Market is modeled after the modern Western Farmers’ Market, where people can go to buy essential produce from the people who grow them. And the farmers have an outlet for selling their produce directly to the consumers.
People also buy their produce from a big box supermarket, but the supermarket is coldly transactional. You pick up what you want off an unattended shelf and maybe even bring it to a self-serve check out machine. It’s designed for efficiency. Get your shopping done as quickly as you can so you can get on with the rest of your life.
The Farmers’ Market is relational. You’re more likely to interact with the producer. You feel a connectedness to the community. As a shopper, you are less on a mission to accomplish a weekly chore as quickly and efficiently as possible, and more on an adventure to see what’s come in season and what new varieties the local farms are raising. You are still shopping for essentials, but in a way that connects you to your community.
At Jiashan we don’t have local farmers selling their wares, but we do have local entrepreneurs. Local producers like Da Paté Lady or Shanghai Young Bakers, creative designers and entrepreneurs filling sustainability needs in the community like NUDE by Korea and Baluchon, and artisan crafters who add authenticity to our aesthetic world, like InkRepublic or mandala.dots.art.
How do you foster community?
A market consists of buyers and sellers. You can’t have one without the other. As a vendor myself, I naturally see things from a vendor’s perspective. I believe the market has an obligation to promote its vendors. They are more than tenants renting space. They are colleagues and friends. In our premarket publicity, I try to highlight the vendors. Our shoppers come for the vendors.
Some markets are ancillary to bigger events – a beer festival or a music festival. These events draw huge crowds, thousands of people, so if a percentage of the crowd buys from the market, it goes well. But for Jiashan, the market is the event. We do well if we can draw 350-400 people because they all come to shop. No one walks away empty handed.
We also have to be equally attentive to the buyers providing a friendly, relaxing atmosphere and a good selection of quality products, with familiar vendors they like to buy from, but also bringing in new and different merchandize to pique their interest.
What do you have planned for the next few months?
First, getting past the pandemic. We just learned that we cannot open in September due to the recent outbreak in China. In Shanghai, markets are regulated by the district level Business Bureau. So regulations vary from district to district.
However we are optimistically planning for a good season starting in October. We are planning to bring back live music with artists like Lana Ra and Yusuf and Sarah Mou and Ismael, who added so much atmosphere to our markets last season.
We are also planning to do themed markets. We had some exceptionally talented fashion artists last season and are looking into doing a special fashion market, probably as an additional market.
The big news is we will have a regular monthly market at Ambassy Court. We have had several markets there in the past in conjunction with Ambassy Club events. It’s a lovely tree-lined location ideal for a neighborhood market.
We’re also looking for another suitable location where we can hold a regular monthly market.
A special market will take place from 11am-5pm this Sunday, September 19 at Ambassy Club.
The usual Jiashan Lane Markets take place at Lane 550 Shaanxi Nan Lu, by Jianguo Xi Lu, Xuhui District.
[All images courtesy of David Henry]