Because who needs a distinction between shops and homes when every square foot means money?

As retail space in downtown Ho Chi Minh City is getting too expensive, the city's young entrepreneurs have decided to climb up the stairs.

The trend of turning old apartments into shops is not new. But it was kicked into high gear in 2015, when the coveted Nguyen Hue Street transformed into a pedestrian-friendly venue.

All this foot traffic has created a lot of business opportunities.

For many people, a monthly rent of $10,000 to $15,000 for an average shop on the ground is just too much. They have decided to cluster into tenements of old apartment buildings, turning tiny units into beauty salons, restaurants, fashion boutiques and accessories stores.

The nine-story building at 42 Nguyen Hue above is now a colony of shops and cafés. Tenants pay between VND10 million ($450) and VND40 million ($1,800) per month for a 50m2 room.

Location aside, the building's mid-20th-century look goes well with the vintage and minimal designs of these small businesses, which in turn makes the decades-old concrete box an unlikely attraction of the city.

“I like to shop here,” said Hien Trang, a 27-year-old campaign planner of an ad agency. “It’s just a few steps from my company, and the clothes are all uniquely designed and much cheaper than items in Mango or Topshop.”

A few minutes away, other apartments at 26 Ly Tu Trong and 14 Ton That Dam have also been colonized by small businesses over the past few years.

Each floor hosts several clothing stores and cafés. Shoppers should expect to climb the stairs since these buildings either don't have elevators or don't have working elevators.

The moving-upstairs trend has sparked a lot of debate over safety and fire risks. When hundreds of people come in and out every day, old buildings can easily be overburdened.

But to those with the business-first attitude, and the carefree customers, safety questions hardly matter.

Check out more pictures in the slideshow below.

Photos by Quynh Tran

Story by Nhung Nguyen