February 24, 2023 09:00
About four months since the deadly Halloween stampede in Itaewon, life has returned to normal in most of Korea, but the entertainment district remains eerily empty.
A narrow alley next to the Hamilton Hotel was deserted last Tuesday evening, and 29 out of 64 shops in the 300-m street were closed. Four were empty and the rest had collected dust, apparently after being shut for some time. The mailboxes of several stores were stuffed with unpaid water and electricity bills.
In another street near Itaewon subway station, right next to the scene of the tragedy, 10 out of some 40 stores had closed down.
A realtor who has worked in Itaewon for four years said, "Many shops closed down after the tragedy and nobody seems to want to move in, so there's a growing number of vacant spaces. Store owners who want to do business in areas frequented by young people no longer seem to be thinking about Itaewon."
Some shops have discounted prices by up to 30 percent and held events to remember the victims, but that was apparently not enough to remove the stigma.
Shopkeepers were supported with W10 billion worth of discount vouchers last month by their district office of Yongsan. They can be used in 2,600 stores in the neighborhood, but only W2.3 billion worth have been used (US$1=W1,297).
Others are thinking about closing down. One clothing store had signs reading "clearance sale." The 60-year-old owner plans to move to Mapo in western Seoul next month. "I like Itaewon and opened my shop here 13 years ago, but I no longer have the strength to keep doing business here now so few customers come in," he said.
The 66-year-old owner of an antique store who has been here for seven years said, "People stopped coming after the tragedy. If a new owner shows up, I want to take a short break and then open elsewhere."
Others stay open despite mounting losses because nobody else is interested in moving into their space. "Nobody is willing to buy this store," said the 67-year-old owner of a restaurant who moved to Itaewon seven years ago.
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