How Coronavirus Affects Commercial Districts

  • By You So-yeon

    January 28, 2021 08:46

    Commercial districts in the capital are experienced contrasting fates as more and more people telecommute due to the coronavirus epidemic.

    In the once-popular shopping and entertainment streets of Itaewon, Gangnam and Hongik University area, visitor traffic has halved, and tourist hotspots like Myeong-dong, Insa-dong and Samcheong-dong are deserted. But convenience stores in dormitory towns are booming.

    Shinhan Bank compared credit and debit card use in restaurants and convenience stores during the fourth quarter of last year with the same period of 2019. It divided Seoul's commercial districts into four large regions -- those that rely on tourists (Myeong-dong, Insa-dong and Samcheong-dong), commercial districts popular among young people (Itaewon, Gangnam subway station area and Hongik University area), areas that depend on local residents for business (Sanggye-dong, Yonhui-dong, Sorae Village in Bangbae-dong) and hip allies with characterful shops and restaurants (Haebangchon near Itaewon, and Mangwon Market close to Hongik University).

    Restaurant owners hang a banner condemning the government's lockdown rules in Itaewon, Seoul on Jan. 19. /Yonhap

    Commercial districts that used to see heavy traffic from visitors from other parts of the city were hit hard. In restaurants in the party district of Itaewon, the coronavirus hotbed in May, credit card use plummeted 63 percent, and at convenience stores there 34 percent.

    Restaurants in Hongik University area (down 58 percent) and Gangnam subway station area (down 43 percent) suffered similar fates. In convenience stores there, credit card use fell 46 percent and 32 percent.

    One shopkeeper in the trendy area around Hongik University said, "Universities shifted to online classes, so not only Hongik students but those from other schools stopped coming here."

    But convenience stores in the northeastern suburbs of Nowon and Sanggye saw credit card use rise 8.6 percent last year. One owner of a convenience store in an apartment complex north of Seoul said, "After restaurants and bars were ordered to close at 9 p.m., there has been an increase in customers buying alcohol and food. It's difficult for me to feel good about my booming business, but I'm relived that I opened the store in a residential neighborhood and not downtown."

    Shops and restaurants that made their money at night suffered bitterly. Credit card use in Itaewon restaurants plummeted 63 percent, but in nearby Haebangchon it only fell four percent. And while Itaewon shops saw credit card use sink 34 percent, in Haebangchgon it only fell 0.8 percent.

    "Places like Itaewon that used to draw a lot of customers from other parts of town fared poorly, but areas like Haebangchon did better because locals kept them afloat."

    The trend of people spending more money in their own neighborhood is expected to continue, Shinhan Bank said.

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