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Posts tagged “Great George

THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE GINZA, Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣), Hong Kong

It is no coincidence that Hong Kong was able to establish itself as an international shopping destination. Without sales tax and tariffs on most goods, geographical proximity to China and other manufacturing Asian countries, decades of expertise in sourcing, trading and global logistics, large demand on products from all over the world and at every price ranges, all contribute to the relatively low consumer prices and high merchandise variety in Hong Kong. Bilingual with English and Chinese also help to cement Hong Kong as a popular shopping paradise for international tourists, receiving over 65 million visitors a year (2018). To talk about the development of the retail scene in Hong Kong, it is impossible not to touch upon Causeway Bay, the city’s prime shopping district. And to talk about the emergence of Causeway Bay, the story should trace back to 1960.

On 3rd of November 1960, thousands of spectators arrived at the intersection of Great George Street (記利佐治街) and Paterson Street (百德新街) to witness a 4000-guest cocktail party for the grand opening of Daimaru (大丸). Back then, little people would foresee that a new upscale Japanese department store in the warehouse dominated East Point (東角) would rapidly and dramatically transform the urban landscape into a vibrant shopping hub that we now call Causeway Bay. It is no exaggeration to say that the arrival of Daimaru was revolutionary to most Hongkongers: 400 staff trained in Japanese etiquette, row of staff bowing at entrance to greet customers, customer-first services, fixed prices, delivery services, split payments, trial eats, attractive displays, soft background music, facial care services, 60% products made in Japan, and even ladies dressed in kimono to serve customers for trial makeups. These may sound no big deal today, but in 1960 the innovative shopping experience has become an instant legend, drawing almost 100,000 customers on the second day of business. After Daimaru, the next two decades saw another three Japanese department stores arriving in Causeway Bay. In its heyday, over 500,000 sf of retail space in Causeway Bay were split among the four department stores: Daimaru (大丸 1960 – 1998), Matsuzakaya (松坂屋 1975 – 1998), Mitsukoshi (三越 1981 – 2006) and SOGO (崇光 1985 – present). From then on, Causeway Bay has become the most essential shopping district in Hong Kong nicknamed as Little Ginza. The Japanese department stores have become synonymous to fancy home appliances, trendy fashion, delightful toys and mouthwatering food-hall, just as Daimaru has become synonymous to Causeway Bay, where public minibuses designated to the area would simply put Daimaru’s Chinese name dai yuen (大丸) as the destination.

Japan’s “Lost Decade” economic stagnation in 1990’s and the shift of consumer culture towards shopping malls significantly affect the Japanese department stores. After 38 years, Daimaru ended its business in Hong Kong in 1998, the same year when Matsuzakaya also closed its store at Patterson Street. Mitsukoshi was doing fine in Causeway Bay, generating 40% of its overseas earning from Hong Kong alone, but was forced to exit the city in 2006 due to demolition of its host building, Hennessy Centre, to make way for the much taller Hysan Place Shopping Centre. Thanks to a takeover by a local billionaire, SOGO remains as today’s anchoring landmark at the iconic street crossing that defines the very heart of Causeway Bay. With Asia’s largest LED screen installed in 2017, SOGO and the little triangular patch of pedestrian entrance forecourt remain as the most popular meeting spot in the area. Apart from financial crisis and change of consumer taste, one of the biggest issues behind the department stores’ inevitable demise was probably Hong Kong’s skyrocketing real estate price and retail rent in the past two decades, especially in Causeway Bay. In 2011, a 1000 sf (plus 600 sf mezzanine) noodle shop near Times Square was sold for a whopping HK$100m (US$ 12.7m). Without factoring in salary and utility expenses, the shop would need to sell 500 noodle bowls each day for 19 years in order to see the same HK$100m on their balance sheet. Eight years later in 2019, the same retail space changed hands again for HK$180m (US$ 22.9m). 2019 also saw Causeway Bay having the world’s most expensive retail rent for the sixth time since 2013, at US$2,671/ sf annually. In comparison, Upper 5th Avenue in New York was at US$2,250, London’s New Bond Street at US$1,744, Paris’ Avenue des Champs Elysées at US$1,519, Milan’s Via Monte Napoleone at US$1,466, and Tokyo’s Ginza at US$1,219. At such rate, not many shops, especially a multi-level department store, can manage a consistent revenue to commit a long term lease. Interestingly, the rent has dramatically dropped in recent years due to the pandemic.

From the rise of Daimaru, to establishing Causeway Bay as a shopping paradise and the world’s highest retail rental market, to the declining retail scene due to overinflated rents and recent pandemic, a cycle might have come to a full circle. Not only did the Japanese department stores help to define the development and urban landscape of Causeway Bay, they also contribute on establishing Hong Kong’s consumer culture that worth US$5.2 billion a month (2016), and successful build up Hongkongers’ common interest on Japanism, from consumer products and hospitality to food and culture. A generation has gone by since the closure of Daimaru, Japan remains as the no. 1 travel destination for Hongkongers, even for youngsters who have never experienced Little Ginza in Hong Kong.

A shopping centre known as Fashion Walk now occupies the space of the former Daimaru. [Photo: Great George Street, 2020]
Across from Fashion Walk, another shopping centre Causeway Place (銅鑼灣地帶) [Photo: Great George Street, 2020]
Diagonally across from the former Daimaru stood the site of the former Matsuzakaya (松坂屋) Department Store. The multi level space is now home to a flagship store of H&M. [Photo: Intersection of Great George Street and Paterson Street, 2022]
Just 30m west of Fashion Walk, the entrance of SOGO Department Store at East Point Road and the busy pedestrian crossing in front have become the most iconic urban scenery of Causeway Bay. [Photo: Hennessy Road/ Yee Wo Street crossing, 2020]
Outside of SOGO, a large crowd gathers in front of the LED screen of Island Beverley Shopping Mall (金百利中心) on 30th of April 2022 to celebrate the birthday of Keung To’s (姜濤), a local celebrity from the popular boy group Mirror. [Photo: East Point Road, 2022]
The streets surrounding SOGO are some of the busiest streets in the area. [Photo: East Point Road, 2020]
In the years before the pandemic, only shops catered for Mainland Chinese tourists, such as pharmacies and jewellery shops, could afford the outrageous high rents surrounding SOGO. [Photo: Lockhart Road, 2014]
From SOGO, the pedestrianized East Point Road extends below Laforet (東角) shopping centre to World Trade Shopping Centre and the former Excelsior Hotel. [Photo: East Point Road, 2014]
Billboards and LED screens are everywhere in the area surrounding SOGO. [Photo: East Point Road, 2014]
Measured 72m x 19m with a surface area larger than five full sized tennis courts, the LED screen on the building facade of SOGO Department Store facing Hennessy Road is the largest LED outdoor screen in the Asia Pacific. [Photo: bend of Hennessy Road and Yee Wo Street, 2020]
SOGO’s large LED screen can be fully appreciated further down the road from Yee Wo Street. [Photo: Yee Wo Street, 2020]
Replacing the 41-storey Hennessy Centre (興利中心) where the former Mitsukoshi Department Store was located with today’s Hysan Place was a bet on the success of a vertical shopping centre. [Photo: Hennessy Road, 2022]
Appeared as facade features facing Hennessy Road, the express escalators provide convenient access to different vertical shopping zones in Hysan Place. [Photo: Hysan Place, 2022]
Look down from Hysan Place, the forecourt of SOGO and the Hennessy Road/ Yee Wo Street crossing always look busy. [Photo: Hysan Place, 2022]
Most of the building facade of Hysan Place on Hennessy Road is reserved for the office lobby entrances. [Photo: Hennessy Road, 2021]
Social unrest and the pandemic in recent years have greatly impacted the retail business in Causeway Bay. [Photo: former Nike flagship store at intersection of Hennessy Road and Percival Street, 2022]
Situated across Paterson Street from the former Daimaru Department Store, the 4-storey Don Don Donki at Pearl City was the most recent introduction to the area. Opened in 2020 during the pandemic, the Japanese discount shop seems to be quite confident in Causeway Bay’s retail scene in the near future. [2022]