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Top>Opinion>Be Prepared for the Upcoming Revitalization of Regional Shopping Streets!


Sukehiro Hosono

Sukehiro Hosono [Profile]

Be Prepared for the Upcoming Revitalization of Regional Shopping Streets!

Sukehiro Hosono
Professor of Urban and Public Policy, the Graduate School of Public Policy, Chuo University

No Future for Shopping Streets?

I visit rural and regional communities twice a month on average. Wherever I go, I see an increasing number of shops on the main streets are closed. The commercial statistics show that about 30,000 shops are closed annually. Local shopping streets are not as crowded and busy as they used to be, due to the low birthrate and growing number of elderly people, megamalls and other large stores in the suburbs which have deprived them of customers, and the recent economic recession which has further undermined consumer confidence. Even shops on nationally well-known shopping streets are no exception. They remain unable to arrange financing to repair or remove decaying arcades so the situation continues. Consumers nowadays can travel and collect information much more easily and more extensively due to motorization and development of telecommunication networks, making them much more selective in their choice. Shops on shopping streets often lack successors and entrepreneurship and have missed out on chances to get customers back. Will these shopping streets, then, fall into irreversible decline?

Opening and Closing of the Megamall Era

In contrast with these shopping streets, is the future bright for large stores such as supermarkets in megamalls in the suburbs or department stores in the center of cities? No, they are no longer as busy as used to be, either. One key reason is intensified competition and another is low consumer confidence. Besides, these sorts of megamalls were popular in the '80s and '90s in the States, but now they are regarded as non-performing assets. Some have been rebuilt into warehouses, elementary schools or city halls. In Japan most megamalls were built in the latter half of the '90s and in the past decade. Even now, the parking lots of megamalls are full of cars in line on holidays. However, I do not know how long these visitors will continue to spend their money and contribute to sales. While supermarkets on a national basis have a tough time competing with regional grocery supermarkets, fast fashion stores like UNIQLO, supported by young people, are taking away customers from the fashion floors of department stores. The "Bigger Is Better" principle is losing its power and the megamall era is coming to an end.

Shopping Streets and Their Public Nature

The national budget for small- and medium-sized companies under the authority of the Ministry of Economic, Trade and Industry is \6.5 billion. Whether you see this figure as too much or too little depends on where you place your axis of evaluation. In this fiscally tight environment, some accuse the budget of lavish spending on businesses which have produced few fruitful results so far and which are not going to produce fruitful results in the future. On the other hand, others think that the time has come to revitalize rural and regional shopping streets. Based around these shopping streets, some think that it is time to reconstruct safe and comfortable communities that have collapsed due to the low birthrate and the growing number of elderly people. Shopping streets can also help to contribute to rebuilding eco-friendly communities that are not dependent on automobiles. There are others who consider the budget is too little to ensure and strengthen the public nature of regional shopping streets. I have stated my opinion in lectures and in my books that the revitalization budget should be raised. According to the 2007 statistics, nearly 1,138,000 retail shops exist on a national basis. As these shops are closely connected to the people living around them, they have a great mission to act as an employment base and to fulfill the needs of people living around them. These shops together comprise shopping streets. Each of these shops should be aware of its public nature, which I'm sure will help revitalize shopping streets as well as regional communities. The time is fast approaching when shopping streets could become the savior of regional communities.

Golden Rules for Revitalizing Regional Commerce

How, then, can decaying regional commerce be revitalized? There are three golden rules to succeeding in revitalization: self-help, mutual assistance and public aid. First, the golden rule of self-help is to conduct thorough research and to link research results to your business. Solicit and approach customers, utilizing IT and on foot, rather than just waiting for them to come. Participate in events on the shopping street and connect them to your business, as they are a free marketing research tool. Visitors to these events will bring information and money.

The golden rule of mutual assistance is to find and foster human resources: that is, "tall trees that catch much wind," and let them use their brains and energies. Elderly people should not drag young people down but support them and cover their losses. Shops on shopping streets should help one another. Solicit customers of the neighboring shops to your shop to create a synergy effect. Improve customer convenience by implementing a point system and providing support services for daily lives of local people. Fireproofing and anticrime measures should be put in place, and benches and blocks should be surrounded by greenery to present a safe and comfortable space for shoppers. Housing developments and parking lots should be developed to increase the number of residents near shopping streets.

Finally, the golden rule of public aid is to provide human and financial support to help enhance self-support and mutual assistance - which are not a "free lunch" and therefore require considerable money. In order for shopping streets to be aware of their public nature, both public and private sectors should design a success model, hand in hand, for shopping streets to take the first new step forward and should educate them on the success model. Then, the public sector should establish a system to support these shopping streets to design their own success model that fits their local needs. In order to do so, administrative institutions must devise ways to remove the bureaucratic bungling of vertically divided administrative functions and formalities. Also important is a thorough evaluation and analysis of policies.

Sukehiro Hosono
Professor of Urban and Public Policies, the Graduate School of Public Policy, Chuo University
Born in 1949, Professor Hosono graduated from the Faculty of Economics, Keio University. He left school at the expiration date of obtaining credits for the Doctoral program on Urban and Regional Planning from the Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences, Tsukuba University in 1981. He has served as Professor of the Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University since 1995 and as Professor of the Graduate School of Public Policy, Chuo University since 2005. His major fields of study include Industrial Organization, Public Policy, Community Policy and Urban Policy. His major publication is Oral History of Tama New Town[oraru histori tama nyu taun] (Co-author, Chuo University Press).