“Liberate Shatin New Town Plaza” was an aborted protest in Oct 2012. Even though the protest was unsuccessful, the sentiment and analysis still hold true.
The Trigger Point: The Shutdown of Commercial Press Bookstore
HelpNewTownPlaza, the organiser of this protest, has been monitoring developments of New Town Plaza since August 2010. On October 6th, the Facebook page reported the shutdown of Commerical Press bookstore.
This Facebook page reported the news in mid-August that the contract of Commercial Press was not renewed. Yet, today, Commercial Press has posted notices saying the store is going to shut down on October 23rd. The New Town Plaza branch will be moved to level 1 of Phrase 3 shop A197a in early December. This page estimates that the new store is at least 30% smaller than the old one. It will no longer be the headquarters (CUHK branch will take its place) . The current bookstore and many other stores on level 2 will be shut down altogether, preparing for a duplex store of an American brand (*It is said that the American brand is Abercrombie & Fitch).
New Town residents can only buy stationery from Muji/Citysuper (*more expensive choices) in these two and half months?! One has to go to the faraway HomeSquare (*Phrase 4 of the plaza) in order to read and buy books? Is it reasonable?! It is seen that the plaza is destined to serve Mainlanders first. Hongkongers’ opinions are no longer valued. In the end, this makes our choices fewer and fewer and the shopping environment becomes more and more monotone.
Netizens suggested that there should be a “Liberate New Town Plaza” protest and HelpNewTownPlaza accepted the suggestion.
On the same day, a message on the official Facebook page of New Town Plaza lamenting that the plaza is no longer a Hongkongers’ plaza has received over 26,000 likes.
Tong: I’ve lived in Shatin for more than a decade. I’ve great feelings towards New Town Plaza…When I was young, New Town Plaza belonged to Hongkongers. At that time, there were many small businesses. Stuffs in the plaza were affordable to locals until 2003, when the fountain was demolished and the plaza started to remodel. “Tokyo Shinkansen”, a place for teenager, is gone. The small shrimp roe noodles and sesame candy shop, which is the current location of Citysuper (*a high-end supermarket), is gone. Popular bookstore is gone. The reconstruction of UA cinema had been delayed for many years. They are replaced by cosmetic stores and designer brands. Every weekend, one can hear more Mandarin than Cantonese in there. Now, even Commercial Press, Breakthrough (*a Christian bookstore) and Kaimonoou (*a Japan hobby shop) have to go away. There is almost no place for locals. Now, Hongkongers can only go to Shantin Centre and Lucky Plaza. (*Both are “less posh”.) Do they have to that ruthless in order to attract Mainland consumers? Why don’t you change all the signs into simplified Chinese? Why don’t all the staffs speak only in Mandarin?
New Town Plaza’s music fountain was entertainment for family before its demolition.
The Change of New Town Plaza: From “Welcome Everyone” to “No Poor People Allowed”
The following is an excerpt of an academic essay that analyses the change of New Town Plaza.
Master’s Thesis for Lingnan University Cultural Studies 2011
Shatin New Town Plaza, ever since it was completed in 1984, has always been the largest shopping mall in Shatin and among the most visited large-scale shopping malls in Hong Kong. However, before New Town Plaza was built, Shatin was just a sparsely populated rural area. No one had ever thought of building a 138.400 square metres shopping kingdom in there.
According to an interview of the (former) CEO of Sun Hung Kai Properties Limited, Chan Kai-ming, in “Shatin. Hong Kong“, the government auctioned off a piece of commercial land in the city centre of Shatin in the early 80’s. Under many uncertainties, only two developers joined the bidding, and Sun Hung Kai Properties Limited won in the end. However, the company had to face a very big problem. At that time, Shatin was too remote. Neither local department stores like Wing On and Sincere nor their Japanese competitors like Matsuzakaya and Daimaru wanted to establish a new branch in there due to uncertainties in the market. Therefore, Chan went to Japan and had meetings with 7 department stores. At last, only Yaohan was willing to establish a new branch in Hong Kong. New Town Plaza, during the period when Yaohan operated, is the most missed “New Town Plaza” by Shatin residents and even Hongkongers. Average people regard that the remodelled New Town Plaza, from its design to categories of stores, no long targets mass consumers. New Town Plaza has transformed from local-friendly and affordable to high class and cruel.
New Town Plaza in Last Century: An Affordable Regional Shopping Mall
From the beginning, New Town Plaza was designed to connect to daily life of Shatin residents. Not only does the plaza connect to Shatin station but also Shatin Town Hall, Shatin Central Library and Shatin Central Park. It connects to leisure and cultural infrastructures built by the government. If one wants to go to Shatin Town Hall from Shatin station, one has to walk past the plaza as this is the only way. This is like one had to pay before one walked a bridge in ancient times. I call the New Town Plaza of the 80’s and 90’s a “regional shopping mall” as its source of customers, categories of stores and designs fully illustrated characters of localisation.
To discuss the past New Town Plaza, Yaohan is an inevitable topic. In the introduction, it mentions that Yaohan was the only Japanese department store that was willing to establish a branch in Hong Kong when New Town Plaza opened. During 1984 – 1996, Yaohan was the biggest tenant of the plaza. When Yaohan opened in 1984, it rented 4 floors – Level 1 was a supermarket, a food court and a sales exhibition venue; Level 2 is household goods and electronics departments. Level 3 is women’s clothing, teen’s clothing, children’s clothing and toy departments; Level 4 is men’s clothing and sports clothing departments. This four-storey department stores sold almost everything at an very affordable price….. I believe that every kid who grew up with Yaohan shares the same experience as mine – mothers brought their children to taste every food sample on every counter, and then they only bought an inexpensive product. Sometimes, they bought nothing at all. The past New Town Plaza provided many “free lunches” to housewives. In holidays, mothers first brought their children to Yaohan supermarket to “have meals”. Then, they left their kids in the toy departments and they themselves went to women’s clothing and household goods departments to try wearing clothes they had desired for a long time and listen to household goods’ promotions. Before leaving, they could bring their kids to watch that big musical fountain. If one was hungry, the whole shopping mall had different kinds of affordable restaurants. The most special one is “Sun Generation”. The restaurant intentionally built its kitchen next to the front door. Through the big window, cooks showed off their “stunt”, the skill of spinning pizza dough. The door of “Sun Generation” was always full of crowd. New Town Plaza was like a community centre for housewives and a children playground. Paying just a small “entrance fee”, one could enjoy the whole day in there.
Mass Consumerism and the New Town Plaza
In fact, the past New Town Plaza was that “close and dear” simply because Hong Kong was under an era of mass consumerism in the 80’s and 90’s. In the 80’s, Hong Kong economic atmosphere was still influenced by the so-called Ford era from the 60’s and 70’s….. In the 60’s and 70’s, Hong Kong economy bloomed. Manufacturing and export industries became powerhouses of economic development. In the 70’s, manufacturing industry contributed to 30% to the local GDP. Export industry grew quickly. The living quality of people improved greatly. GDP per capita also increased from $6,500 HKD in 1970 to $28,000 HKD in 1980. Hong Kong was called “Asia Four Dragons”. In the 70’s and 80’s, basically, everyone did not worry about unemployment. Under high employment rate, workers were also consumers. Everyone had enough money in the pocket to spend. Mass consumerism started from that period.
Even encountering stock market crash in 1987 and the migration of the manufacturing industry to China, mass consumerism was unaffected in the mid-90’s as stock and housing markets flourished…
At that period, New Town Plaza certainly targeted this mass consumerism model. Before it was remodelled in 2004, shops introduced were mostly mass-oriented — department stores, fast food chains, small stationery stores, clinics and tutorial schools etc. Shops in the plaza took care of customers of all ages.
Under mass consumerism, everyone consumed because everyone had purchasing power. Shopping malls had all kinds of discounts and promotions to attract customers. Increasing people flow by maintaining attractiveness was the main goal of shopping malls. They welcomed every customers, from housewives to students. Once you stepped inside a shopping mall, whether you spent $10 or $1000, you would be regarded as an “honourable” customer. Under the model of mass consumerism, stuffs that the plaza sold were not luxury goods. They were sold-more-earn-more daily necessities. The plaza only needed to attract more customers, then it could earn money. At that time, students like me, just spending 8 dollars on 2 Japanese imagawayakis, I could enjoy an afternoon with my classmates in the food court. The plaza would still welcome.
A Globalised New Town Plaza in this High-End Century
In 2001, the median income of Hong Kong family was 18,705 HKD. In 2006, the median income was just $17,259 HKD. In 1997, Yaohan closed down all its stores. Later, Asian financial crisis and SARS followed, deflation appeared in Hong Kong. Retail industry was hard-hit. New Town Plaza realised that it could not depend on average people. Therefore, in 2004, it spent over 300 million to remodel phrase 1.
The remodelled New Town Plaza no longer targets average locals. Instead, costumers who strive for style and have high purchasing power are targeted. On level 1, all kinds of Asian and American cuisines composite a “high class” food court. The so-called food court is just putting restaurants together. And these restaurants like Shakey’s Pizza and Hip Sushi can not be called inexpensive.
On level 2, Wellcome (*a low-end supermarket) was replaced by the Japanese supermarket C!ty”super. In the past, C!ty’super only appeared in Times Square, Harbour City, and IFC, which are shopping malls inside financial districts. Its presence implies that New Town Plaza has been upgraded from a regional shopping mall to one that can level with its urban counterparts. The change of level 3 affects New Town Plaza greatly. Musical fountain was moved to level 7 and only partially opens to the public. The main colour of the plaza was changed from reddish brown to dazzling white. That cold colour stands out further as the musical fountain was moved away. In the past, we stood in front of Body Shop to wait for our late-coming friends. Today, if one has to wait for others, standing in front of designer brand stores like Armani Exchange, Coach, etc makes one feel uncomfortable. On level 3, there were Giordano and Bossini which are affordable to housewives and students. After remodelling, fashion brands it introduced are all designer brands from the Europe, including Agnès b, Burberry and Vivienne Westwood etc. The relatively inexpensive one is Zara, but it is still from the Europe.
When all the stores relate to high spending, where have the affordable shops gone? The transformed New Town Plaza just targets customers with high purchasing power instead of housewives. Affordable shops become fewer and fewer. That family-owned eyeware store at which I have shopped since I was a secondary school student had been moved to New Town Tower (*a commercial building in New Town Plaza) and a seemingly “higher-class” Lenscrafters took its place. McDonald’s had moved from the “good location” to level 6. Tutorial school, ballet school and clinics have all disappeared. As the plaza no longer serves average people, “free lunch” certainly does not exist anymore. There is no musical fountain, and big shows disappear altogether…… Take the Christmas programme of 2010 as example, there were shining Christmas decorations on level 3 including a “Christmas house” for customers to take pictures inside. However, the requirement for entering the small house was to get enough points by spending electronic money.
The biggest difference between mass and niche markets is that the former depends on high people flow and large number of consumers while the latter only targets a few customers with high purchasing power and short consumption cycle. Therefore, the operating strategy of New Town Plaza is no longer on high people flow. Instead, attracting the same kind of consumers to shop in there is the new strategy. Besides changing categories of shops and stop providing free entertainment, the plaza lacks seats for people to rest. If they want to rest, the plaza encourages them to stay and rest in restaurants. That means if one wants to stay in the plaza, one has to spend money. Otherwise, don’t stay.
I call the present New Town Plaza as a “globalised shopping mall” as it is like all the globalised large shopping malls, which have similar brands, designs and pay particular attention on newness and the so-called “personal style”. The function of shopping malls has gradually transformed from socially-orientated to individually-orientated. On the surface, the door of shopping malls seems to welcome everyone. However, it has a hidden clause “No Poor People Allowed”.
Many people regard that the “old” New Town Plaza is closer and dearer. However, please see carefully. The plaza changed from “close and dear” to “proud” is because the economic production model has changed. Shopping malls have never served average people. It only serves economic interests.