How Old Is This Store?
See & Do Tours
Have you ever wondered what it'd be like to step into a store which has lasted over a century? Imagine. A rush of warm air ruffles your hair as you open the door. Inside, the musty smell of dust and mold clinging to the furniture emits a mysterious yet oddly wonderful and alluring atmosphere.
The fantasy and expectations surrounding old shops and stores draw many people to its doorstep. And although there are many such shops and stores to be found in the midst of Seoul, old shops and stores don’t hold merit just because they’re old. They’re valuable because they are stores where generations after generations have passed down their skills, preserving the authenticity of culture and tradition. Although these types of shops have been dwindling down in Korea, there has been great interest and effort to preserve these places.
With the hope that these shops and stores will continue to stand 100, even 1,000 years from now, the store owners go about maintaining their small business with silent yet strong determination. These are some of the stores that have withstood the time of 100 years and successfully managed to uphold tradition.
Since its founding in 1856, Kum BakYeon Workshop has been in business for 5 generations. The founder of Kum BakYeon Workshop was an artisan of the royal court who gilded gold leaf unto the king’s robes. The skills and techniques of gilding have been preserved in this place. Unlike other countries where they draw with the brush and sprinkle on the gold powder, Kum BakYeon uses a stamping method. They use a technique where the artisan uses a wooden block to quickly pick up and imprint the design before it has a chance to dry on the block. The 5th generation master artisan of this store currently holds the prestigious title of Important Intangible Cultural Property.
Back during the Joseon dynasty, gilding gold leaf on clothes was reserved only for royalty. Depending on the ceremonial purpose, the gilded design would be in the form of a lotus, peony, pomegranate, or turtle among various types of flowers, plants, and characters. For a store to have survived this long through generation after generation, it couldn’t afford to be stubborn about purely sticking to tradition. They had to be flexible enough to keep up with the modern world too. They had to put in a lot of effort to produce their merchandises for souvenir purposes and develop educational programs and activities that helped spread the history and culture of Korean gilding.
11-18 Gahoe-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
A place favorited by King Gojong and Sunjong
Founded in 1913, Koohasanbang is a shop that sells brushes and inkstones. It was one of the very first brush shops that supplied the palace and was a place greatly beloved by King Gojong and Sunjong. Before Koohasanbang, merchants used to sell brushes and inkstones on straw mats by the street. But the quality of the brushes sold by those merchants was horrendous, giving rise to a lot of dissatisfied customers. However, after Koohasanbang opened, buyers could be confident they were getting high-quality brushes for their money.
Koohasanbang sells brushes of various different quality and sizes, paper, ink, inkstones, and water bowls. It has over 1,000 different types of calligraphy supplies, ranging all the way from cheap student brushes costing under 10,000 won to the very expensive Seohopil(brushes made from rat whiskers) costing several million won.
Koohasanbang literally translates into “the otherworld where enlightened hermits hang about”. Just like how those immortals hang around to drink and chat, Koohasanbang was a place where famed calligraphers, painters, and artist could gather and exchange information. Koohasanbang doesn’t just make and sell brushes. As a store with prestige and history, Koohasanbang is still hard at work preserving the culture and history of Korea even to this day.
[Brushes made from weasel fur, wolf fur, cow ear hair]
11 Insadong 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul (since 1913)
There’s a very well-known tailor shop that’s just as good as the London’s Savile Row. And that tailor shop is Jongno Tailor Shop, which has been around for four generations now. Back when Jongno was still a central commercial area, many famous people would come to this very shop to get their suit made. Back then, the shop’s sewing factory would have over 200 tailors. They would make 10 suits a day, close to 300 suits a month, and were hugely successful. But with the introduction of ready-made suits in the 90s, they were forced to the sidelines.
When taking measurements for a suit, the 20 measurements that need to be made are vastly different from people to people. In Jongno Tailor Shop, great concentration and focus was needed to take in the measurements as they would provide the base of the composition of the suit, which would take around 2 weeks to complete. After choosing the fabric and taking measurements, adjustments would be made on the prototype suit 3 to 4 days later before the actual suit was made from the final fabric. And that suit would be specifically made to fit one very special person.
45 Supyo-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul
Even to this day, Beijing and Kyoto, with its 500-year-old Liulichang’s antique street and 300-year-old Kyukyodo's paper goods, continue to attract many tourists and customers. Starting with Kum BakYeon Workshop, Koohasanbang, and Jongno Tailor Shop, it’s greatly hoped that all the newer stores and shops around the Jongno and Euljiro district will continue to stick around for the next 500, hopefully even 1,000 years.