In recent years, Vietnam has intensified programmes aimed at building “rich, beautiful, and civilized” cities. The modernization of urban markets forms part of these efforts. This paper focuses on the contestations and negotiations surrounding the upgrade of a state-run market in the northern border city of Lào Cai. In order to retain their stall use rights in the new market building, the traders were required to invest a sum that many felt was beyond their immediate means. Frustrated with the top-down implementation of policy decisions that would potentially displace less affluent vendors from the market, the traders organized in protest and submitted petitions and complaints to various levels of government. A number of irregularities, specifically the unofficial sale of so-called „ghost spaces‟ by the market management, further added to their sense of betrayal. In this article, I critically examine the argumentation strategies employed by both traders and government officials during several formal hearings held in 2014. The analysis provides a rare glimpse into the discursive interaction between citizens and state agents in the context of Vietnam´s efforts to speed up urbanization and urban renewal, both of which are seen as crucial conditions for successful economic development.