Recently I’ve been noticing more “fence stores” popping up around Yangon. Rent for space on sidewalks must be negotiated with whoever happens to “own” that particular stretch (sidewalk “ownership” can sometimes prove to be a delicate and complex issue), and street-entrepreneurs who set up businesses run the chance of having their rent decided upon or influenced by a number of different parties.
For example, one betel nut shop on a particularly premium (high foot-traffic, high visibility) patch of sidewalk had to make monthly payments to 1) the local police station, 2) a representative of the local “block chief” (the base of the urban political pyramid in Yangon), 3) the owner of the restaurant adjacent to which he had set up shop (the ostensible landowner), and 4) the street-cleaner whose area of responsibility included his shop.
Although requiring more investment than the minimalist sidewalk-based approach of a blanket upon which to place your goods, there sidewalk stores present an appealing alternative to the right entrepreneurs. Indeed, depending on the context, setting up shop inside of a fenced in area can serve more purposes than merely consolidating the number of individuals one must pay rent to.
1) The fence creates a natural division of space between customer and storeowner, attaining a level of formality/professionalism not otherwise available when one’s enterprise is a cart, or an open-sided affair on a blanket pushed against the wall of a building in the middle of a sidewalk. This can also level prevailing “power imbalance” dynamic that occurs between the sidewalk-based seller (often seated on the ground or upon a low plastic chair) and the seller (often upright).
2) Rent may also include use of bathrooms inside of the fenced-in facility, making the process simpler for the owner than having to ask someone to watch the store while they answer a call of nature.
3) Fences offer greater security, meaning one is actually able to leave the store for several minutes (see #2) with a smaller chance of being robbed – the additional trouble of having to clamber over a fence to lift something as opposed to merely bending over to nick something off the sidewalk.
4) Besides being protected from those seeking a five-finger discount, being behind a fence also mitigates the risk of passers-by inadvertently damaging goods through stepping on them during high-traffic times or on a narrow sidewalk where space is at a premium.
5) As with all permanent structures and more secure tenure arrangements, there is opportunity for investment in improving the quality of the retail space, like installing a rain-cover over the store (as in the daytime store).