Exploring the big dreams behind small stores in Taipei

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There are many tiny stores in Taipei that offer unique products and services.
There are many tiny stores in Taipei that offer unique products and services.

TAIPEI (The China Post) — There are many tiny stores in Taipei that offer unique products and services. Culturally, small stores have been popular in Taiwan because they provide a cozy and friendly atmosphere for locals. Nowadays, younger people often open their own small businesses to express their creativity and passion. Although these shops may be small, they are steps towards achieving big dreams. 

Shop: Smile 7 Nails & Lashes Salon 

Smile 7 is a small Nails & Lashes salon located in the underground Taipei Main Station market. The purple exterior of the store is very eye-catching, and the interior is decorated with neon lights and stuffed animals. 

Smile 7 storefront located at Taipei Main Station underground mall [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Smile 7 storefront located at Taipei Main Station underground mall [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
“Many foreign tourists visit our store,” says the owner of Smile 7. When we visited the salon, it was filled with young foreign tourists. According to the owner, many reviews they have on google are written by foreign customers, which attracts even more tourists to the salon. The owner laughed while saying, “Although our English is bad, we try our best.” They offer a visual menu for their nails & lashes choices, which can be helpful for foreign customers. 

A visual menu [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen]

Smile 7 offers many types of nail design, from simple one-color nails to minion nails art, there are a wide variety of options. “I liked the bold designs that this salon had. Stones and characters that pop out from nails are something we didn’t have back in the states.” a customer from Massachusetts said. 

Alongside nails, Smile 7 also offers lash extensions. The styles offered at the salon are simple yet eye-catching, making it an excellent destination for first-time eyelash extension customers. 

The owner takes pride in the service offered at Smile 7. “I can’t say that we are the best salon out here,” he says. “But I know our service is good, which is why we get lots of good reviews that we are thankful for.” 

Freshly done manicure and gel nails at Smile 7 [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Freshly done manicure and gel nails at Smile 7 [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
The name of the salon, Smile 7, originates because the owner hopes to provide good service and happiness to their customers. The salon was originally located in the East district. After moving to Taipei Main Station in December 2018, their sales has increased, and they have more foreign customers now. 

As for the future, the owner of Smile 7 wishes nails and lashes salon to be accessible for everyone. “I hope to expand our business one day,” he said. “I also wish that the workers we have right now will become the owners of new branches of Smile 7”. 

Address (Chinese): 台北市忠孝西路一段50-1號站前地下街Z區6-5

Address (English): 100, Taipei City, Zhongzheng District, Section 1, Zhongxiao West Road, 50-1號站前地下街 6-5店舖
Hours Open: 12:00 AM – 9:00 PM

Shop: Free Room Hair Salon

Walking into a new, undiscovered hair salon can be anyone’s worst nightmare. In fact, trusting a stranger to understand your preferences and leaving a salon with terribly cut hair is, unfortunately, a universal experience. However, at Free Room, a small hair salon at the Shilin Night Market, your worries of walking out of the salon with a lousy haircut can be forgotten. 

Free Room is run by Taiwanese stylist Karen and her pet cat. Besides the two, no other stylists (or animals) can be found at the store. The salon itself is small, but aesthetically designed; bottles of shampoo, hair oils, dyes and even dry flowers are used to convey a simple yet elegant vibe. 

Free Room store front located at the outskirts of Shilin night market [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Free Room store front located at the outskirts of Shilin night market [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Karen’s cat pawing at Free Room salon hair products [Photo by Phoebe Chen].
Karen’s cat pawing at Free Room salon hair products [Photo by Phoebe Chen].
Although the salon may seem limited, the one-on-one presence that is given at Free Room can be reassuring for clients that are nervous for their haircut. For Karen, she opened Free Room to create a more open and intimate experience for her clients. 

“I had originally worked for another hair salon alongside other workers,” Karen said. “But after gaining more experience, I left and opened my own salon. I think this allows my customers to feel like their experience here is more personalized, like all my attention is on them and only them.” 

When opening her salon, Karen decided to name her business “Free Room” because she saw the parlor as a representation of freedom to “express [her] creativity.” Instead of merely picturing hairstyling as an occupation, Karen believes her job to be also a form of art that should be celebrated. 

Product wall at Free Room salon [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Product wall at Free Room salon [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
By opening a business as small as Free Room, Karen was allowed an outlet to express her love and talent for hairstyling. “Opening a store as small as this one [Free Room], I have freely created independent and unique ideas with my customers. It is a great step on my path to more success, I believe,” Karen said. 

Ultimately, Karen’s goal is that Free Room and her abilities as a hairstylist will expand. “I dream that I will be able to hire more workers and eventually move the salon to a bigger and greater location. I also hope that I can improve my skills as a stylist,” she said. 

Address (Chinese): 台北士林區文林路144巷4號1樓

Address (English): No. 4, Lane 144, Wenlin Road, Shilin District, Taipei City, 111

Hours Open: 12:00 PM – 8:00 PM (Closes on Monday)

Shop: Sola Cotton Candy

The newest dessert perfect for this summer is ice cream burritos: ice cream and toppings wrapped in cotton candy. Although the idea of ice cream wrapped in cotton candy can seem like an overly sweet and unhealthy treat. At Sola Cotton Candy, customers can enjoy ice cream burritos that are perfectly sweet and natural. 

Sola Cotton Candy is located in Ximending, a shopping area popular for tourists. The aesthetic pastel interior of the shop is catered towards younger female customers, who might enjoy trying new desserts or exploring Taipei city. 

Freshly made ice cream burritos at SOLA Cotton Candy [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Freshly made ice cream burritos at SOLA Cotton Candy [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
The owner of the store, Luke, opened the business with his Japanese girlfriend. After being inspired by cotton candy sold in Japan, they decided to open a unique, Japanese-style shop that could serve both Taiwanese and Japanese people. “I wanted to combine Japanese and Taiwanese tastes because people from different places can prefer different tastes,” Luke said. 

SOLA storefront located on the outskirts of Ximending [Phoebe taken by Phoebe Chen].
SOLA storefront located on the outskirts of Ximending [Phoebe taken by Phoebe Chen].
The ice cream and cotton candy sold at Sola Cotton Candy are all homemade, and the flavors provided at the store are all natural. While many other stores flavor their cotton candy with sugar and artificial flavoring, Sola Cotton Candy flavors their products with dried or frozen fruits. “I know cotton candy and ice cream seems unhealthy, but here, we wanted to create a sweetness that is delicious but also not too unhealthy like many other cotton candy desserts sold,” Lucas said.  

Half strawberry half milk tea flavored ice cream burrito being made by store owner Lucas [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Half strawberry half milk tea flavored ice cream burrito being made by store owner Lucas [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Sola Cotton Candy has collaborated with brands such as Swarovski and Moschino. If requested, they can create new flavors that match their partner’s needs. These collaborations with more prominent brands, successfully promote Sola’s business. “Promoting different and bigger store helps us grow as a smaller shop,” Lucas said. 

Luke’s future goal is to expand the store and to better their service. He is already planning to open a second store with a menu mainly of ice cream burritos. 

Address (Chinese): No. 36, Xining Rd, Wanhua District, Taipei City, 台湾 108

Address (English): 萬華區西寧南路36號,Taipei, Taiwan

Hours Open: (Tuesday-Thursday) 1:30 PM – 9:30 PM (Friday) 1:30 PM – 10:00 PM (Saturday) 1:00 PM – 10:00 PM (Sunday) 1:00 PM – 9:30 PM (Monday) Closed

Shop: Sugoi Shoe Shop

Are you looking for some rare but authentic streetwear in Taipei? Then you should consider visiting Sugoi Shop! 

Best known for their shoes, Sugoi is a tiny business located in an alley on the outskirts of Shilin Night market. Their shop is brightly lit with many hard to find sneakers and other accessories that you don’t see at a regular Nike or Adidas shop. Some of their rare shoes and products include, Kanye West’s Yeezy collection, Off-White X Nike, Revenge Storm Vans, Supreme merchandise and many more.

Nike Air Max 97 Silver Bullet on sale at Sugoi Shoe Shop [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Nike Air Max 97 Silver Bullet on sale at Sugoi Shoe Shop [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Shopping at Sugoi guarantees that the sneakers and accessories customers buy are all authentic. “There are many online stores that sell fake merchandise, and a lot of people that are interested in investing expensive streetwear know that,” owner of Sugoi said. “So I created Sugoi as a store that only sells real merchandise.”

It is his love for streetwear and hard to comeby items that drove the owner of Sugoi to open his business. “I have always loved following trends,” the store owner said. “So one day I just decided why not open a store? So not only I but others who are interested in the same thing can also indulge in the streetwear they love.” 

When asked about what was unique about the shoe shop, the owner answered: “Our shop sells things that are considered as luxury street fashion. So whatever idols wear, you would probably find it in our shop. Also, we sell things that you would normally find in fashion magazines. As long as you’ve seen or heard about an idol wearing it, you can ask us about it, since we’re a shop that specializes in these kinds of luxury items.”

Sugoi Shop flaunts their expensive Supreme merchandise behind glass shelves [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Sugoi Shop flaunts their expensive Supreme merchandise behind glass shelves [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Both foreigners and Taiwanese people visit Sugoi often. According to the owner, the popularity of Sugoi may be because “[our] our shop is located in the Shilin Night market, where there are always many, many tourists.” 

As for Taiwanese people, since Sugoi has been opened for many years, the business has slowly but surely gained popularity within locals. 

Storefront of Sugoi shoe shop located at the outskirts of Shilin night market [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Storefront of Sugoi shoe shop located at the outskirts of Shilin night market [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Even though Sugoi shoe shop doesn’t plan to expand their store physically, they plan to expand the store by importing more sneakers and sending them to other Taiwanese shop owners who also want to purchase streetwear merchandise. As the owner explained, “since Taiwan is growing on the trend of owning luxury fashion, many Taiwanese shoe shop owners come here to get the products too.”

Address (Chinese): 士林區文林路144巷5號1樓

Address (English): No.5, Ln. 144, Wenlin Rd., Shilin Dist., Taipei City

Hours Open: 5:00 PM – 11:30 PM


Shop: G Shop Accessory

Located in a dark underground space in Taipei Main Station, G Shop Accessory’s bright and shiny jewelry catches the eyes of many pedestrians. The store is designed to be a welcoming atmosphere for customers to shop in. 

G Shop Accessory is located in Taipei Main Station, a highly populated and attractive destination for both Taiwanese residents and tourists. Since it is located near the main station Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), many customers visit the store during the weekdays. 

Handmade earrings made from G shop [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
Handmade earrings made from G shop [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
G Shop has been around for a year, and had recently expanded its branch of business to another location. As of now, there are only two stores that can be found worldwide. “We do hope to expand ourselves eventually,” said a long-time worker. “And the second store that we recently opened has been a great jump towards our goal.”

What makes G Shop Accessory special, though, is their original, homemade accessories. Recently, the store owner collaborated with a Korean brand to create new designs. The accessories were all uniquely handmade by the store owner.

“By making out own accessories, our store is different from others in Taipei. We don’t just import cheap accessories. We put time and effort into what makes available to our customers,” the worker said.

G Shop located in the Eslite Taipei Station Store [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
G Shop located in the Eslite Taipei Station Store [Photo taken by Phoebe Chen].
The store owner’s personal designs are botanical and it has an antique vibe. All the accessories made don a rusty metal color, making it seem like they are older and scarce. G Shop Accessory also incorporates crystals from Swarovski in their original designs. Although the brand is still expanding, it aims to sell a wider variety of originally designed accessories. 

Currently, G Shop has made only a couple collaborations with other brands. However, the G Shop owner’s greatest dream is to utilize her small business to expand her hobby of creating accessories while also working with more businesses. She hopes to eventually create products that are inspired by other cultures, as currently, G Shop has products that only explore Korean and Taiwanese culture. 

Address (Chinese): 10041 台北市中正區忠孝西路一段47號B1F

Address (English) : No. 47, Section 1, Zhongxiao West Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, 100

Hours Open: 10:00 AM – 10:30 PM

By Yuka Miyazaki, Sabrina Lin, and Phoebe Chen