PeopleGukje MarketPeople

Cultivates Gukje Market,
leads Gukje Market

Korea Bag, Kwon Young-il, first generation owner
Bldg. A, 1F
Korea Bag, Kwon Young-il, first generation owner

It's been 52 years since Kwon Young-il of Korea Bag came to Gukje Market. It has been half a century since he fled from North Korea and settled here after the war, unable to return. He continues his life with his son at Gukje Market where a significant part of his history remains.

Half a century with Gukje Market, his life foundation

After the liberation of Korea in 1945, the history of Gukje Market began with trading of goods left by the Japanese and imported by overseas Koreans in Gwangbok-dong. It was called the Dottaegi Market (a flea market) at first because there were no decent stores and there were people buying goods and merchants selling goods all jumbled together in the open space. Then, a building called Free Market was built in 1948. In 1950, the market began handling goods sourced from US troops, and was later named Gukje Market.
The owner, Kwon Young-il, is from North Korea. He escaped North Korea with his parents and waited for the end of the war in Seoul, but couldn't return to his hometown after the war. He was enlisted in the army because his parents' financial difficulties, and found it hard to find a job after his later discharge from the army In 1967, he came to Busan after hearing that he could find a job at Gukje Market.
“At that time, I worked only if I was fed three meals a day. There was no off time nor weekends. But still, so many people wanted to work. Everyone worked hard so I had to work harder to survive... I lived my life like that. It's been 52 years and Gukje Market is still home to ordinary people like me.”
Half a century has passed and the then 24-year-old is now old and gray. Gukje Market embraces Mr. Kwon's sweat, effort and vitality.

Continuing on the foundation of his life with his son

Bags have special meaning for Kwon. When people who have left their hometowns to make money return home, they have bags in their hands. No matter how late the time, he always opens the store for customers who come by to buy a big bag full of gifts for their parents. As he cannot return to his hometown, he sent his heart in each customer's bag.
Korea Bag at Gukje Market enjoys popularity. It began when his son appeared in a TV program . His son Kwon Chang-oh, the 2nd owner, appeared as the 'Master of Key', opening locked carriers.
“There may be many people who have lost the password to their bags. Customers brought their bags one by one and it went viral, and the broadcasting company came and shot me at work. Since then, more customers come to my son, ha ha".
He complains that customers come and unlock their bags instead of buying new bags. But he still seems to enjoy working with his son. He is thankful that his son has taken over the workplace to which he has dedicated his whole life.
Korea Bag has been reinvigorated since his son began running the business. The store expanded to stock various types of carriers as there are more tourists. If you visit Busan during your vacation and come to the store to buy bags, they can be shipped to your house for convenience.
Nothing has changed in Gukje Market for the last half century. The time passes quickly, but Gukje Market does not change much. Mr. Kwon appreciates that the market isn't changing, but understands that if the market does not change, it will fall behind. He wishes that this place, where he was able to earn a living, will live on in the next generation.