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[Weekender] Hurry up and wait

Once considered incomprehensible, competitive queuing for scarce purchases, special experiences has become a trend

Aug. 5, 2023 - 16:01 By Lee Si-jin
A long line forms in front of Kokkili Bagel in Yeongdeungpo-gu, western Seoul on July 29. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

People started arriving one after another holding parasols to line up at the entrance of Kokkili Bagel, a local bakery in Yeongdeungpo-gu, western Seoul, a little after 7 a.m on July 29.

Though the door was closed and the lights were off, more bagel lovers gathered and formed a long line that stretched to the street’s end as it neared 8:30 a.m., the bakery’s opening time.

They were all there to do their Kokkili Bagel “open run” that morning.

Origins of 'open run' culture

It was not long ago that this term -- open run -- was first used in Korean with a slightly different meaning to its regular English usage.

In Korea, an open run refers to standing in a long line, waiting to enter a restaurant or shop as soon as its doors open.

The term was coined at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the number of customers allowed in stores was restricted by social distancing rules and luxury brands like Chanel had announced imminent price increases.

Hoping to buy before the price hike, loyal customers flocked to such stores -- but so did bulk buyers with plans to resell the items elsewhere.

Images of long lines outside department stores with customers sitting on folding camping chairs and picnic mats and covered in blankets went viral, leading many to question if one should go that far to buy luxury goods.

People made fun of those who stayed up all night or arrived at stores at the crack of dawn.

It was not difficult to spot hate comments in online communities, comparing those waiting in line to homeless residents.

But the phenomenon was not new. Long before the term "open run" was used, clothing retailers often tried to create a buzz by teaming up with designers to offer limited edition items that fans would have to queue for hours for a chance of buying.

But open runs are no longer limited to clothing shops. They happen at other retailers, cafes, restaurants and even box offices, offering self-satisfaction and a unique experience for those willing to stand in line for hours for a few moments of gratification.

Self-satisfaction and special experience

Lee Do-hun, a 43-year-old office worker living in Mok-dong, southwestern Seoul, chose to drive 15 minutes to Kokkili Bagel instead of walking to a closer Paris Baguette -- Korea’s ubiquitous bakery franchise.

Though he had left his house at 7:10 a.m., there was already quite a long line by the time he arrived.

The bagels at Kokkili Bagel are worth the wait in the sweltering summer heat, Lee said.

“The wood-fired bread, including the bagels, are amazing. They are not baked in an electric oven. I wonder if that’s what makes Kokkili Bagel so special,” he said.

Lee said he is willing to stand in line in the early morning waiting for it.

A line of customers waits to enter Kokkili Bagel. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

“I was one of those people who felt the 'open run' culture was a little strange. But, come to think of it, this is just another way of doing something that you really like,” the father of two boys said.

“I didn’t choose to wait in line to brag on Instagram or to take photos to prove I had been there. I just wanted to eat delicious food and experience the excellent chewiness of Kokkili Bagel with my family,” Lee added.

The popularity of renowned US chain burger restaurant Five Guys in Gangnam-gu, southern Seoul, which opened June 26 does not seem likely to wane anytime soon -- the store is still bustling with burger lovers.

“As soon as I read the news that South Korea’s first Five Guys burger restaurant would open in June, I made a plan to eat those burgers. I decided to make an open run to avoid large crowds,” a 21-year-old convenience store worker surnamed Kim told The Korea Herald on Tuesday.

Five Guys asks visitors to enter their phone number on a tablet in front of the store -- when it is your turn to enter, you will get a text message. The idea is that this process is supposed to eliminate the need to stand in line. But there is still a line to enter your number, according to Kim.

“My friends read some online posts and reviews about the restaurant. They told me that I might have to wait several hours to eat a hamburger. But that was not a problem,” Kim said. Kim, who joined the line at 9 a.m., got his burger at noon.

The young burger lover wanted to experience the differences between a Five Guys burger and his fast-food picks at McDonald’s and Lotteria.

“From free peanuts to salted caramel shakes, everything was new. The burger was very juicy and delicious. And even the French fries seemed different. I have no regrets about my early open run,” Kim said, his face beaming.

Visitors wait in line to enter their phone numbers on a tablet in front of the Five Guys burger restaurant located in Gangnam-gu, southern Seoul, on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, others welcomed the open run phenomenon as it brightens their ordinary lives with a special experience.

“I make most of my open runs in theaters and pop-up stores,” a 23-year-old Kyung Hee University student surnamed Park told The Korea Herald.

Park, a Harry Potter enthusiast, shared that her first open run experience was in April last year.

“My friend and I were two of the first people to watch ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’ last year in Korea. We booked tickets for the first screening of the film, which was at 6:20 a.m. I did it to avoid seeing any spoilers on YouTube or other online communities,” Park said.

This decision brought her an unexpected gift.

“Coming out of the theater, we saw a long line of people in front of the ticket booth in the morning. It did not take long for us to realize that those people had been in the audience with us. We learned that CGV was giving away a limited number of posters to the audience,” Park said.

“From that day on, I have been trying to make open runs for my favorite movies, hoping to receive special posters to make a great memory about the film,” she said.

Park Sang-ho, 36, who has been a fan of the LG Twins -- the Seoul-based Korean baseball club -- shared that he made his first-ever open run to Jamsil Baseball Stadium earlier this year.

“The team offered a limited number of yellow-colored towels on a first come, first served basis. The towel is a popular tool to cheer for the team during the 2023 season,” Park said. “LG Twins offered the towel for the special occasion. And I felt that this was a chance to show my devotion to the team as a fan. It matched my ‘sohwakhaeng’ lifestyle,” Park said.

"Sohwakhaeng" is a Korean expression meaning “small but certain happiness,” that has been trending in South Korea for the past several years.

Fans wait in line to meet their beloved sports stars four hours before a baseball game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Songpa-gu, eastern Seoul, on Wednesday. (Lee Si-jin/The Korea Herald)

He said money did not mean much in most open run cases.

"I heard that some fans do baseball open runs several hours before the beginning of a game to take photos, get autographs and cheer on their beloved athletes," Park said.

“Anyone who is willing to show their passion and effort can do an open run. I think it’s a great way to feel a sense of achievement as well,” he said.