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Inside Wongwian Yai’s Soi Thong Bai, Chinese immigrant Piangyoong Sae Liao opened a shoe factory in 1959. Over a half century later, his grandchildren have kept that alive in a boutique hotel they have decided to call Shoes Maker Home. 

We talked with co-founder Monpen Kityingsopon about how they’re keeping the rich history behind the family business alive, even if they are no longer shoemakers.

“You can’t replicate touches like these,” Monpen said, referring to thick, brown layers of glue evident on a wall behind her. “Workers in the past would leave these scuff marks on walls when they tried to wipe the shoemaking glue off their hands.”

Along with her siblings, including sisters Ranee and Monthip, Monpen runs the three-room boutique hotel set in her family’s former shoe factory in Thonburi. In 1959, her grandfather, a Chinese immigrant named Piangyoong Sae Liao, opened the shop – the kind of small, family-run venture that once defined Bangkok’s economy. In its heyday, the factory employed more than 20 workers, and the business thrived, selling women’s sandals and leather boots in bustling marketplaces like Sampeng for decades.

After the Tom Yum Kung crisis in 1997, however, sales suffered, and the market became more competitive as big businesses working at scale began to dominate the industry. In 2014, the family closed their factory doors for good. But the dream to keep the family business alive lived on. Instead of fanning out to work for large companies in other industries, the second and third generation family members rallied together to open a small hotel that would reflect their grandfather’s work.

Their story is a quintessentially Bangkok tale: A Chinese immigrant works to save money and opens a business; through tireless effort and grit, it flourishes; as time wears on, future generations adapt while keeping the business in the family.

“We were rather accepting of the situation, but we also didn’t want to part with things like the wooden shoe models we kept from decades ago,” Monpen said.

After discussing it together, members of the Kityingsopon family came to the conclusion that they wanted to turn their old factory into a hotel.

Instead of turning it into a hostel, with many beds in one room rented for cheap, they aimed for something more. They redecorated each of the rooms to preserve the memories they cherished of the former business. They painted images that spoke to the district’s past as a shoemaking hub on the walls and placed their old wooden shoe models on shelves. They hung up black-and-white family photographs. The three rooms – 42, 44, and 46 – are named after the shoe sizes the business most often produced. In these, they stripped the walls down to highlight the aesthetic of old shophouses.

It took them almost a year to finish the renovations. But like many other hotel owners, Monpen admitted they didn’t foresee the pandemic situation becoming what it has. Since April 2021, the hotel hasn’t welcomed any new visitors and has closed its doors for the time being.

“As our hotel is located near other people’s houses, we are concerned we might cause unwanted problems to the people in the area if we brought in outside guests,” Monpen said. “If we had known about this, we might have halted the renovation.”

When asked about the future of their hotel, Monpen says the family didn’t have any definite plans to change course during the pandemic, but she does voice concern about how the current situation might affect the mindset of the tourists.

“Even megaprojects like condominiums are losing sales. People might change their traveling preferences, and it might take a tremendous amount of time before things go back to normal.”

Just like the Tom Yum Kung crisis, the economic downturn that delivered fatal blows to many businesses and corporations, COVID-19 has devastated people and businesses in the tourism industry. While its effects have proved stubbornly hard to shake, leaving tourism in chronic distress, many businesses like Monpen’s are showing incredible resilience in the face of crisis.

Shoes Maker Home may not be able to share Piangyoong’s story with visitors now, but Monpen and company are still honoring their late grandfather, even if it isn’t obvious. They are drawing on his perseverance in uncertain times, and through that, they might keep the family working together long into the future.

FIND IT:

Shoes Maker Home
092-484-8139
139 Charoen Rat Rd, Khlong Ton Sai, Khlong San

This story originally appeared in BK.

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This article, Sleep in a 1959 Bangkok shoe factory remade into boutique stay, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company.

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