Tianjin had long been a business center in northern China, even before the Opium War about 150 years ago.
After the war, it played an even more important role in China's economy, largely due to the fact that the emperor was compelled to make it an open port to foreign merchants.
Nowadays Tianjin is probably one of China's best places to come across a bargain, from antiques to western modern clothing. The markets and stores here are notorious as a shopping paradise for those bored of Beijing, and as such, on weekends, the place is flooded with antique hunters or those after a new wardrobe.
The best of the streets for general shopping has to be Binjiang dao, a huge street with block upon block of stalls and shops containing almost anything you might fancy. Generally though, the city is crammed with shopping facilities and a wander around any of the main drag will bring you into contact. Zhongxin Park is the northern boundary of the main shopping district, with surrounding roads of Dagu Lu, Jinzhou Dao and Chifeng Dao. For department stores, the Quanye Bazaar Department Store, a nine-storey steel construction on the corner of Changchun Dao and Heping Lu, is popular as the only one in China that uses real people instead of mannequins to models its clothes.
Probably the most popular destination for those shoppers to Tianjin has to be the Antique Market (Guwan shichang), centered on Shenyang dao. This area, just west of the main shopping district, is packed full of curios both old and new. Even if you have little intention of buying anything, you will still have fun strolling the alleys, which are lined with dark, small shops and stalls.
Peddlers here simply spread out a newspaper and put on display their arguably authentic curios for passers-by to peruse. Originally centered on Shenyang Jie, it has in recent years expanded into the neighboring streets and alleys. The size of the market varies according the time of a year and also day of the week, with Sunday attracting swarms of Beijing people bargain hunting. Be sure to try a verify your products, cynicism and hard bargaining are mandatory for the successful hunter.
Finally there are a variety of specialty goods that Tianjin produces, the most obvious being the carpets, New Year posters and clay figurines. There are many factory outlets in the Tianjin area that produce its famous handmade carpets, although this is an expensive option, best done by those who know what they are doing.
Clay figurines have been famous in Tianjin ever since the Master of clay, Zhang mingshan, came on the scene in the nineteenth century. Beyond galleries and art viewing, the best place to get these figurines is in the Nirenzhang Clay Figurine Store on the Ancient Culture Street. The best place to purchase your New Year posters is the Yangliuqing New Year Poster Shop, Yangliuqing being the famous town to the west of Tianjin that has from early times produced these prints.