Socially distanced Richmond Night Market to open July 23

Fewer food vendors and retailers mean visitors have more room for social distancing

raymond cheung - cc
Richmond Night Market owner Raymond Cheung stands in front of newly pitched tents that will soon shelter food and retail vendors | Chung Chow

Richmond Night Market is set to open to the public on July 23, and be the first large-scale event to launch in B.C. following loosened COVID-19 restrictions. 

The market's owner, Raymond Cheung, sprung into action as soon as the B.C. government confirmed, on June 29, that the province would move to Step 3 of its restart plan as of July 1.

This meant that Cheung's 21-year-old night market could operate at reduced capacity, and that he needed to immediately consult with health authorities, and city staff, to gain all necessary permits and authorizations.

He also quickly hired about 80 employees to fill a range of positions.

Pre-pandemic, Cheung's night market, which he attests is the largest in North America, employed about 150 workers.

"How it will turn out, I don't know," Cheung told Glacier Media. "It will be interesting to see how people – given that they have been under lockdown for 18 months now – how they will react to an event like this."

The Richmond Night Market is a short walk from the Bridgeport Canada Line station, and its main draw is its food court.

The market site is approximately 20 acres, with most of that being for parking. The actual market area is about five acres. Fewer booths this year mean that Cheung is making more space for social distancing.

He said that he will have about 70 food tents this year, as well as food trucks. Given that each food booth has a menu with at least four or five items, this adds up to a vast range of tasting options.

Approximately 100 retail-oriented tents will supplement this, with purveyors  from around the world selling a wide range of items.

In total, Cheung's night market had about 300 tents in 2019, with approximately 110 of them selling food, he added.

"I call it a treasure hunt, where people will go shopping, or play games, and just, you know, enjoy a good time with the family," he said.

"In Vancouver, we have a lot of different nationalities coming from all around the world, and they bring in unique items to sell."

The site can comfortably hold thousands of visitors.

The market's season historically started in the spring. In 2019, it was open for a total of 75 days over 21 weeks. This year, the plan is to be open for 23 days in slightly more than six weeks.

The market is open Friday and Saturday nights, starting at 7 p.m., and running until midnight. On Sundays and holidays, the market opens at 7 p.m., and runs until 11 p.m.

If all goes well, and Canada's plan to reopen the U.S. border brings more tourists, weather stays dry and new COVID-19 infections stay low, Cheung may extend his night market's season by a couple weeks, he said.

"There are lots of moving components right now," he explained.

Cheung said that his market has been profitable through the years and he is aiming to turn a profit this year as well.

Revenue comes from vendors, as well as from visitor admissions. Food vendors must rent space for the entire season because of licensing issues, Cheung said.

His retail vendors may rent their spaces on a weekly, monthly or season-long basis.

Admission to the site is $3.50 for a single ticket, although Cheung sells what he calls Zoom passes, which include five entrances for $18.

Those who buy Zoom passes do so through the market's proprietary app Hello Chat. Officials then scan barcodes on entrants' smartphones to allow them to enter. The app allows users to add money to their app account so they can pay for on-site food or retail items with their smartphones.

Cheung's costs include tent infrastructure, as well as installing sinks so food vendors can access hot and cold water.

He hires workers to handle marketing and operations, while separately contracting security and paying the RCMP to handle traffic control.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom