Airport Market is almost extinct, like many of the small, traditional markets across Korea are falling prey to redevelopment. Old markets like Airport Market (공항시장) are supplanted by supermarket chains and shopping malls. First, Emart moved in the area, and then the humungous Lotte Mall settled on land across the street, taking away customers and forcing many businesses in the market to close up shop.
Airport Market lies close to Gimpo International Airport, hence its name. Gimpo Airport has a history dating back to the Japanese colonial period. It was built by the Japanese Imperial Army from 1935-1942 and called Keijo New Airfield (京城新飛行場.) After Korea was liberated from the Japanese, The US army took over and renamed it Kimpo Air Base, also known as K-14. During the Korean War, The Korean People’s Army (North Korea) took over the base for a short time before eventually being pushed back north of the 38th parallel. In 1958, the airbase was repurposed into an International Airport. It would serve as the central hub for international arrivals to Korea until Incheon International Airport opened in 2001. After that, Gimpo was relegated to domestic and short international arrivals and departures. Gimpo Airport and the nearby market share a similar history of being downgraded after something newer, more convenient comes along.
I estimate that the market is running at twenty percent occupancy. It’s uncomfortably quiet on a Saturday. Markets like these should be bustling and full of noise. It reminds me of the current state of Seobang Market (서방시장) in Gwangju. There is life in these markets, but it’s faint. The pulse is barely beating. It languishes in the purgatory of semi-abandonment.
Our first visit was entirely accidental. My wife and I were waiting for the bus home after running some errands at the Lotte Mall. We had some time before the bus arrived, so I suggested we walk down a side street adjacent to the bus stop. My instincts told me to keep walking, and we stumbled upon the Airport Market. Besides the occasional passerby, we were alone walking through the corridors of the market. The only proof of activity was a glowing sign for a meat restaurant. I took a few pictures, but we had to get back and catch our bus. I knew I would come back and shoot it with film.
My wife and I came back the next weekend to shoot the pictures I am presenting now. The only phone picture I include today is of the glowing sign for the meat restaurant. If you look closely at the image below, you will see a rusty metal version of an OB pitcher atop the roof of the main building of the market. I think the rust adds charm and enhances the golden, foamy beer pitcher.
I thought this would be the best opportunity to get a picture of this sign. Turns out I was wrong. As we wandered around the building, admire a sign pointing to the bomb shelter, a gentleman arrived on his bicycle. My wife starts asking lots of questions about the place, and I think he appreciated her curiosity. It turns out he is the owner of the meat restaurant. He (we never got his name) leads us to the rooftop where we got to see the market from a new perspective.
There were no guard rails, I was weary stepping any closer to the ledge to take photos. Our guide told us he was born in the market. He pointed out where an old movie theatre used to be and told us about movies he saw there. It was a quick peek at the roof, but my wife and I were grateful for his hospitality, so we decided to eat samgyeopsal at his restaurant. He even offered us home-brewed blueberry makgeolli, which was strong but delicious. What a guy!
Usually, I keep locations a secret to prevent general dumbassery from happening at sites. This is one place I recommend everyone go. Have a meal at this guy’s restaurant, support the businesses that are still making a living at the market. Airport Market has its own stop on Line 9 of the Seoul Subway. Go out exit 1, the market is easy to find, the restaurant is located on the second floor.