After a year and a half of renovations and upgrades, Zhonglou Street, which brings back childhood memories for many in Taiyuan, capital of North China's Shanxi province, announced its comeback around mid-September.
Holding on to her cane tightly, a 76-year-old senior citizen surnamed Su plodded along the old street through the rain. Passing by every old type of architecture made Su have flashbacks of her younger years.
"In 1979, I held a banquet for my parents at this restaurant on the street after I got married. It just stayed the way it was back then," Su said. She pointed at a hotel, which had some interior decor updates. Yet, the exterior facade remained the same.
"We will come to the restaurant to have a reunion dinner when it is your father and I's 50th wedding anniversary," Su told her daughter.
Zhonglou Street, which means bell tower street in English, has a centuries-long history dating back to as early as the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, and since then, it has transformed into one of the city's busiest commercial strips.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the ancient street still had a record of over 20 million people in its yearly visitor volume, according to Zhang Lufang from the culture and tourism bureau of the city's Yingze District.
More than just a crib for the local business boom, Zhonglou is home to more than 20 cultural relics protection units and stores many Chinese time-honored brands. Many of the shops on the street may be unknown, but they have been there for nearly a century.
However, timeworn facilities and the frequent traffic jam put a drag on the street during Taiyuan's rapid development over the decades. Yang Dong, deputy director of the commerce bureau of Yingze District, a native of Taiyuan, recalls the former Zhonglou being a place with "thick wires in the sky, rife with pits and-pots on the ground, which burdened all the store staff with worries." The thick overhead wires crisscrossed the street almost arbitrarily, making it more difficult to renovate and upgrade the aging roads.
In April 2020, the city launched an upgrade project of Zhonglou Street. Li Hui, Party secretary of Yingze District, where the street is located, said that 25 alleys and 32 historical buildings along the street had been renovated, the overall planning and operation conducted by domestic professionals.
Meanwhile, 56 new shops have been opened, with a total operation area of about 120,000 square meters.
The ancient Zhonglou has now turned into a 700-meter-long pedestrian street, spacious and clean, full of buildings with original and historical features. Stores of centuries-old brands lie shoulder to shoulder with today's most trendy ones on the street, while leisure squares and nostalgic exhibitions are dotted around the shops.
The old and new are easy to spot at the upgraded Zhonglou. The middle-aged and elderly citizens are the main visitors of the street. Some tourists even walk with their cameras turned on, livestreaming the transformations of these families.
Pu Jing, head of Taiyuan Architectural Design and Research Institute, said that under the general principle of "protection, restoration and activation," the complete overhaul of Zhonglou Street protected and renovated its valuable historical relics. It also rebuilt the important historical buildings that were lost over the decades. The old street has been injected with new space, business models and elements.