Tesla liquor trade: China’s jobless go back to basics as COVID woes continue

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Wang Wei to shut down his tourism business, he invested his life savings of 80,000 yuan ($16,900) into setting up a mobile coffee shop.

Since June, Mr. Wang has driven through Beijing from one auto show to another, offering up hand-brewed coffee soaked in a variety of spirits, all from the back of his green Suzuki van.

Once considered too low a status for many, street peddling has made a comeback in China.

Many new street vendors are people who, having lost jobs or businesses, are looking for new ways to make a living as the country’s unrelenting anti-COVID policies continue.

Hospitality, tourism and after-school tutoring have been particularly affected.

Wang, 40, abandoned a traditional coffee shop in her native Tianjin in 2020 when the pandemic first hit.

The overseas group tours he used to organize also took a hit that year, with a lucrative trip to see the northern lights cancelled, costing him hundreds of thousands of yuan in lost profits.

Customers sit at Wang Wei's mobile coffee stand in Beijing.
Wang Wei’s mobile cafe and glamping experience provides you with a stable income in difficult times.(Reuters: Thomas Peter)

This year, the spread of the Omicron variant in China was the final nail in the coffin, making his group’s intra-China tours impossible.

Wang started operating his mobile coffee stand this summer, after auto shows took off in big southern cities like Chengdu, Chongqing and Guangzhou.

Under a canopy that extends from Mr. Wang’s van, guests relax in camping chairs, with soft lights at night completing the glamping experience.

“The growing popularity of this trunk sale market has helped me get through the toughest times,” said Wang, who estimates he earns around 1,000 yuan ($211) a day.

Selling liquor by Tesla

China’s economy barely grew in the April-June period.

Youth unemployment has remained high, reaching a record 19.9 percent in July, the fourth month the rate has broken records.

Pan, 25, closed her bar in Shenzhen after a COVID outbreak in March, leaving her more than 100,000 yuan ($21,115) in debt.

Tourists walk past the gate of Haikou airport in China's Hainan province.
China continues to employ strict measures to control the spread of COVID-19(Reuters)

“I was pretty down and one night my fiancée Annie, wanting to cheer me up, took me to a watering hole in a quiet area with warm, dim lights and soft music,” he said.

It was then that he saw a couple selling liquor from an outdoor stall, which inspired him to do the same, but from his Tesla.

“My best friend lent me 3,000 yuan ($633), which became the initial investment for our temporary liquor store,” said Pan.

Pan and Annie ran out of money in their first week, but their determination paid off, with daily earnings since rising to 7,800 yuan ($1,646).

“In the future, we plan to travel the country with our Tesla and sell liquor from the trunk of our car in the cities that we enjoy the most,” Pan said.

A ‘flexible’ future

Legislators, since tacit admission jobs are harder to come by, have encouraged “flexible” employment in the informal economy.

Even Beijing, which has long seen makeshift markets below the capital, is turning a blind eye to boot sales.

Liu, 30, used to make a living teaching children how to solve the Rubik’s cube, but after COVID-19 prevented in-person learning, he was “out of money.”

Now she sells coffee out of the back of her small van and hopes her small business will get her out of financial trouble.

“We are still losing money at this stage, I get less than 100 yuan ($21) a day most of the time, it is not enough for meals and transportation,” he said.

“But I’m happy to be busy.”


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