Some have been shop owners for just a few years, others for half a century. They are part of the unique character of Ben Thanh Market.
The famous shop owner
Some passers-by ask the owner of Thu shop (stalls No. 829-821-835), "Are you swimmer Truong An?" Vo Tran Truong An, who was a champion of the young category of Southeast Asia, is now owner of a shop in Ben Thanh Market. "My family has a few members. So, I have to help my mother."
September on, the peak time of foreign tourists' season in Vietnam, is the busiest time for the Thu shop, which sells goods such as coffee, confectionery, black pepper, ginseng, shark's fins and abalone.
"I can speak English, so my business is better," she says. "Although my Chinese and Thai are not so good, I believe I will have a good command of them in the future."
The calculator is my interpreter
The back of the name-cards of Ly Thi Tuyet Mai, owner of Tuyet shop (stalls 265-468), is printed into a bill. "It's different now," she says. "We don't have to bargain any more. We print this bill for the sake of customers."
The Tuyet shop sells velvet, silk and painted ao dai, Vietnamese dresses. Half of the customers there are foreign, and prices are the same for domestic and foreign shoppers. Foreign customers are in favor of locally-made fabric and refuse imported ones, Mai says.
"My English is not good, but my customers can point to what they like and I show the price on the calculator," she says. "They understand it all." Mai has many regular foreign customers who often come to pick some gifts. "An ao dai costs only VND200,000. Some have been customers at my shops for five or seven years."
A male florist
The owner of Long Thao flower shop on the north side of Ben Thanh Market is a man, Nguyen Mong Long. The 10 years at Ben Thanh Market has helped Long buy a house and vehicles, and earn enough money to raise his children.
Long says weekends and Mondays are when flowers sell better. "If some ships call at the port or if a foreign VIP is leaving, I sell more flowers," he says. This category of customers often chooses orchids as they are durable and convenient for carrying.
Long belongs to the third generation in his family selling flowers. His grandparents and his father were also florists.
No anger for half a century
Few know that the old, small, relatively hard-to-hear woman at shop No. 950 is one of the shop owners who have sold goods at Ben Thanh Market for the longest time. The old woman, Tran Thi Mau, is a northerner who has spent 54 years at this market. "Over the past five decades, I haven't quarreled with any customers and haven't been angry with anyone."
Mau sells ornamental items, from tiny handbags made of rattan and colorful bamboo masks to desktop boxes in the shape of a peacock. "I'm not so healthy now. But I want to keep my shop. When I'm too ill, my daughter will replace me," she says.
Good quality and reasonable prices
Hanh An shop has three stalls selling embroidered slippers and handbags. At busy times, the shop is crowded with clients from noon till dusk. Most of them are tourists in groups. "Your goods must be of high quality and at reasonable prices, and you have to have good service," Nguyen Thi Thinh, owner of Hanh An, says. "And next time, tour guides will take guests to your shop." Hanh An has nine shop assistants who can speak English or Japanese. Some are taking courses in Thai.
"I like Japanese customers the best. They're not too meticulous. Some buy up to VND10 million each," Thinh says.