Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 10 News List

MRT shops get new lease on life

RETROACTIVE RELIEF Businesses in Taipei's two underground shopping malls are asking for aid to combat the dwindling sales the SARS panic has caused

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

An elderly couple exercise in the nearly empty Taipei MRT system's Easy Mall yesterday. The underground shopping complex is seeking a rent reduction due to a dearth of foot traffic due to the public panic over SARS.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC, 台北捷運公司), manager of the city's Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, may reduce rents for tenants at two underground shopping malls after the SARS epidemic nearly killed customer traffic.

"The City Government is suggesting we offer a rent reduction to businesses in the underground malls [retroactive to] March and through June," TRTC public relations manager Ling Chi-yao (凌啟堯) said yesterday.

Last month, representatives from the two malls that rent space from TRTC -- Eastern Metro Mall (捷運東區地下街) and Easy Mall (台北捷運大街) -- appealed to both the company and the Taipei City Council for help after the SARS panic slowed passenger traffic.

"We jointly asked for the TRTC to reduce our rents, but we haven't heard any response from the company yet," Wang Wan-chun (王婉君), chairman of the Eastern Metro Mall store association said yesterday.

"We're working on measures concerning the appeal," Ling said, but refused to elaborate on a timetable.

Shopkeepers say the appeal is not without merit.

"Many stores in Eastern Metro suffered over a 50 percent drop in business," Wang said.

In March, an average 936,000 passengers rode the MRT per day. That number fell by 7 percent to 870,000 last month, and slid another 29 percent to 600,000 early this month after the Taipei City Government required all MRT passengers to wear masks on the trains.

For some businesses in the Eastern Metro Mall, the news of a rent reduction has come too late to save their enterprises.

One cosmetics shop in the mall, Yu Store (散布的魚), will close after its contract expires in July, an employee said yesterday, requesting her name not be used.

Down the corridor at PaiLin (百林百貨), things were not much better. Manager Lin Miao-ling (林妙玲) said the only reason the store still had its doors open was to avoid confiscation of a seven month deposit, which amounts to over NT$2 million.

Meanwhile, stores in Easy Mall may get a helping hand soon.

"We will reduce commissions on stores before the TRTC grants the rental cut," said Linda Cheng (鄭美玲), chairman of Chief Win Development Co (啟運通商), manager of Easy Mall.

Underground stores in Easy Mall saw a 30 percent to 40 percent drop in sales during this month and last, Cheng said.

"We deserve rental discounts similar to airport stores also hard-hit by SARS," Cheng said.

In addition to cut in rents, some shop owners are waiting for the mask requirement to be removed.

"Besides concern over bad air circulation down here that may increase the risk of SARS infection, the uncomfortableness of wearing masks has made people rush out of the station," said Paul Liu (劉金龍), owner of Taipei Aiwa Audio City (台北愛華館).

However, for one consumer, the empty mall is a plus.

"It's safer down here since people are not coming, which reduces the possibility of exposing to SARS virus," said Reiko Huang (黃麗鳳), a Taipei hospital nurse who was among the few people reading books in Eastern Metro Mall's Eslite Bookstore (誠品書店) yesterday.

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