City rejoices as retail sales slump

CD-GovtSincereToday’s Hong Kong edition of China Daily has three stories and two photos on the front page – all ranting about the pro-democracy Occupy/Umbrella movement. The stories are: ‘Arrested protestors to clog up courts for years’; ‘HK Chief Executive suave, sincere and in total control’; and ‘Evil Western foreigners say Occupy Central is evil foreign plot’. The two pictures show: hundreds of innocent people suffering in the first ever traffic jam in the history of Hong Kong, caused of course by Occupy Central; and one of those characteristically seedy-looking patriots going berserk attacking a photo of pro-dem publisher Jimmy Lai.

The South China Morning Post’s City section is an oasis of sanity in comparison, featuring a ringing declaration that what today’s Hong Kong kids most need is a version of the Clash. In deference to its tycoon-owner’s need to shoe-shine the Communists, the paper also carries the latest mind-numbing leak-smear about Jimmy Lai. But it goes on to bring us genuinely heart-warming news: retail sales slump 40%. The article then explains that it’s ‘30-40%’ and the figure reflects only the National Day holiday period last week. But it also makes clear that the decline is not so much to do with the protests as with the fall in demand from Mainlanders generally, probably as a result of Beijing’s anti-corruption drive. We are hearing this more and more, and some candid luxury-brand bosses see it as a longer-term trend.

The propaganda tells us that Hong Kong’s economy – its people’s prosperity – is reliant on ‘tourism’, which effectively means Mainlanders coming here to shop. It certainly looks and feels that way when you walk around the Nathan Road/Argyle Street area and see three branches of Chow Tai Fook jewellers crammed among its competitors’ outlets on just one side of a 100-yard stretch of road. The implication is that without the Mainland-oriented stores, this would be a wasteland and the shop staff would be jobless and starving. But of course that’s not true: go back a few years and the area was full of diverse shops and restaurants serving local consumers. Mainlanders’ demand (diverted from their home cities by sales taxes and product-quality concerns) translates into higher rents for landlords, but no net material benefit for ordinary Hongkongers – indeed, if anything, they suffer from higher rents, more crowding, fewer stores meeting their needs and fewer opportunities to start up a business themselves.

If this artificial and distorting phenomenon were to fade away, that would be great. In my own neighbourhood, something strange is happening, but I’m not sure what. Along Lyndhurst Terrace, it seems every fourth or fifth store is currently under renovation. Why have so many leases come up at the same time? A mystery. The first one to emerge from its cocoon is to be a Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe®. This fake nostalgia confectioner concept originates in Britain. Would-be franchisees are invited – seriously – to see the brand as a contrast to sameness, standardization and predictable shops and products in towns and cities.

In the UK, a store full of jars of candies would at least have some cultural resonance; they still have places like that, if not with the plastic faux-Victorian appearance. Presumably, the British would see it as a bit of a joke. But what will the tourists in Lyndhurst Terrace think? They are mostly Japanese and Korean as well as Mainlanders, and they will cluster to this spot because it is next door to the egg tart emporium, which they are for some reason required to visit. Japanese housewives being dedicated Beatrix Potter fans, they will perhaps pick up on the visual clues and imagine this is a genuine example of Ye Olde Lyndhurste Terrace’s colonial-era Shoppes. The Koreans will be mystified. The Mainlanders will recoil at the horrifying sickliness of the sweet aroma and rush off in search of infant formula.

I will check out the Pineapple Chunks – 4d per quarter-pound, no doubt – when it opens. Meanwhile, we wait to see what, if anything, Hong Kong’s leaders do about the Mainland tourist infestation and other landlord-profiting public nuisances in the wake of the Umbrella Uprising.

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15 Responses to City rejoices as retail sales slump

  1. regislea says:

    Would-be franchisees also need to stump up 30,000 quid! I wonder what an HK franchise costs?

  2. PD says:

    Whatever one might think of your views on the democratic movement/uprising/revolution, at least you’ve managed to keep your comments section largely free from trolls and ten-centers — unlike the Post.

  3. “Suave, sincere and in total control” – three lies in one story! Is this a record?

  4. Scotty Dotty says:

    Let’s face it, mainlanders are never going to stop offloading their corruption winnings into Hong Kong (and Macau).

    The only debate in Hong Kong’s future is if they accept shed loads or shitloads of them.

  5. Jon Dica says:

    Apply Daily!

  6. Joe Studwell says:

    3 bits of information/plausible hearsay:

    1. Mainland tourists not coming, as I understand it, partly because mainland has curtailed group tours during protest period. I assume China Daily says ‘Retail down because we are stopping it?’ Can’t bring myself to read the thing.
    2. Last time I looked, tourism accounted for 5% of HK GNP. Do the maths and a drop in tourist retail is hardly a mortal blow.
    3. Don’t you have to get egg tarts because Fatty Patten used to get them from that shop? Of course he should have sent a civil servant in a chopper to Lord Stowe’s bakery on Taipa, but that’s the English for you. Always ready to accept comestible second-best.

  7. Joe Studwell says:

    P.S. Judging by his comment, PrivateBeach appears to be smoking weed. The author is paraphrasing, PrivateBeach.

  8. PCC says:

    Shit. Only 40 percent?

  9. Incredulous says:

    I think we would be doing a favour for 11 Jiping’s anti-corruption drive if all the luxury stores were driven out of business. Plus improve quality of life for local residents.

  10. Dan the Man says:

    It’s something hardly anyone points out for some reason, but the reason why the Chinese go to HK to buy stuff is because the HK dollar doesn’t appreciate much at all due to the HK government policy of fixing the HK exchange rate. If the HK government just stopped fixing the exchange rate and let the free market work, the HK dollar would become so expensive for mainlanders they would stop coming to HK because it costs too much.

  11. doug r says:

    Dan, that goes for Mainland as well. If they let their currency float all that crap they make and sell to the rest of the world would go up in price and more Mainlanders could afford Western crap. Better balance, although they might buy even more real estate-but us Westerners could figure out a way around that.Yes, I live in HK2 otherwise known as Richmond, BC.

  12. Real Tax Payer (Retired) says:

    @ Joe Studwell

    Correct : 5% of GDP but 9% of employment ( according to something I read recently) , which is a more sensitive issue

    PS : Are you in fact THE Joe Studwell of “The China Dream” etc ?

  13. Billy Nunchuk says:

    What is with all the empty chocolate shops for Mainland tourists anyway?

  14. Scotty Dotty says:

    @ Dan and Doug

    Sadly the major reason Chinese come to Hong Kong to buy stuff is they’re too lazy to go to Europe or United States

    Once you have a wad, exchange rates are just a rounding error.

  15. @Joe Studwell – I did realise – but I don’t think facetiousness is (yet) against the Basic Law.. And I haven’t indulged in such illegal pleasures since 1976 or thereabouts.

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