Taichung 台中 is home to an unusual social experiment: the Honest Store 誠實商店 in the Fēngshù Community 楓樹社區 (literally “Maple Community”) of Nántún 南屯, Taiwan. According to roundTAIWANround (through which I discovered the place) it was once a general store of the traditional variety that you’ll still find scattered around the countryside and in older neighbourhoods. Such shops have been fading into history for years, unable to compete with the modern chains that have become symbols of Taiwan’s culture of convenience. The shop would have shut down had the owner not experimented with a new model: locally-sourced goods, financial transparency, and no paid staff, relying on the honesty of its patrons to stay in business.
Take a step inside and you’ll be transported to a different time—a time before air conditioning, just-in-time logistics, and fancy computerized kiosks offering a million and one services. The shop is comparatively less convenient but not without some of the features you’re expect at the major chains. You can still pick out a tea egg from the pot or whip yourself up some self-serve coffee (which I did while visiting). There’s also an assortment of local goods: fresh eggs, soap and candles, traditional candy, and other items that will likely be familiar to anyone who grew up in Taiwan.
Usually there isn’t anyone around to total up your purchases and provide change. You are expected to look up prices and leave the appropriate amount in the “honesty jar” (really just a slot) on a counter at the back. But this isn’t a black box business; monthly financial reports are posted on the wall so everyone knows exactly how the shop is doing. This is a refreshing change from the more or less interchangeable experience of walking into any of the nation’s thousands of sterile, sanitized, but admittedly very convenient convenience stores.