This is a photo I took from a bus window as we rode through the streets of Shanghai several years ago. It shows typical Chinese businesses at two levels of sophistication.
Local Chinese businesses typically begin in one room, about the size of an American one-car garage. You can see the same in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, and you have to admire the entrepreneurship it takes to make such a small business work.
The one on the left is the most usual. It has no front window. All it has is a metal garage-door front that is closed at night and raised in the morning. Typical businesses are eating places, and repair businesses for bicycles and mopeds. Some of the merchandise is moved onto the pavement in front where much of the business is done, as seems to be the situation here. Moped and bicycle repair is also often done on the pavement. Eating places often begin as food carts, and moving inside, in a permanent location out of the weather (somewhat) is a big step forward. The kitchen, storage, and serving area are still in the same room. The cook and his wok are in the far back and one or two tables and chairs in the front. Customers typically eat with their coats on.
The two on its right have advanced to glass fronts with regular store-front doors, as we would see in our cities. Inside, however, they are often still small, one rooms that serve as both storage areas and business areas. Some who can, have moved the storage area to an adjoining room in the back or upstairs, often by giving up living space.
Just as in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, these are not all of the businesses, just the early start-ups. As they prosper, they expand, either by buying out the next-door business, or moving, and many develop into the well-financed stores we are used to. The feature we find unique is that they start so small, not waiting until they can finance a full operation. A few even start by a woman squatting on the pavement with the merchandise spread out around her.
You can also see such Chinese businesses at the Reading Terminal Market. You can be sitting at the counter eating Chinese food while watching the cook in an open area prepare the meals in a wok from ingredients stored within his reach (the cook is always male.) A waitress usually takes the order, lays out the utensils, and takes the money, but occasionally you give your order directly to the cook, who is temporarily doing double-duty. Business does not stop just because half the work force is not there.