Businesses in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華) would take at least six months to recover from the effects of a COVID-19 outbreak, a merchants’ association said on Sunday.
Wanhua, home to the Ximending (西門町) shopping area, is usually one of the most visited parts of Taipei. However, people have been avoiding the district since last month, when a COVID-19 outbreak was discovered there.
Now, only local residents can be seen on the streets of Wanhua and they pass by quickly without entering the shops, Taipei Business District and Industrial Confederation chairman Hung Wen-ho (洪文和) said.
Photo: Chen Chih-chu, Taipei Times
“Most businesses have shuttered up. Only a few shaken-beverage shops remain open and they have very few customers. In this once-bustling district, 90 percent of the shops are now closed. It feels desolate,” he said.
Food and beverage establishments that have switched to takeout and delivery services earn at best only 30 percent of their previous revenue, he said.
While businesses in Taipei City Mall have benefited from rent cuts offered by the Taipei City Government during the pandemic, businesses with private landowners have not fared so well, chairman of the Taipei City Ximending Pedestrian Zone Development Promotion Association chairman Liu Chia-hsin (劉家鑫) said.
Many of the businesses that are hanging on are considering closing, he said.
“The situation will probably start to improve once everyone is vaccinated, and I am sure Ximending will see people return. Business owners are concerned, but I am confident that consumer spending will rebound,” association member Liu Chin-lung (劉金龍) said.
Taiwan Institute of Economic Research president Chang Chien-yi (張建一) said this month would be the toughest period for retailers with storefronts.
However, the situation could improve next month if the local outbreak is brought under control and more Taiwanese receive vaccines, Chang said.
Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research vice president Wang Jiann-chyuan (王健全) said social distancing would likely still be needed, even if the pandemic slows down.
The city government should require stalls in markets to be better separated, which would be good environmentally and aesthetically, he said, adding that the city should also help businesses transition to online commerce.
“The most important thing now is to bring the pandemic under control, but the city also has a plan for rejuvenating the post-pandemic economy,” Taipei Deputy Mayor Tsai Ping-kun (蔡炳坤) said.
The city would hold the Taipei Lantern Festival — which has been delayed due to the pandemic — in Wanhua when it is safe to do so, he said.
The festival — which would include events at Bangka Qingshan Temple, Ximending and other historical locations in Wanhua — would bring crowds to the district and likely spur spending of up to NT$100 million (US$3.6 million), he said.
Traditional shops on Dihua Street (迪化街) are open, but foot traffic has dropped to about 10 percent of normal levels, Dihua Shopping District Development Association chairman Hsu Ching-chi (徐慶棋) said.
However, some of the businesses that have shifted to online shopping have maintained normal levels of revenue, he said, adding that some have even seen an increase in sales.
Chen Tzu-hui (陳姿卉), chairman of the Bangka Night Market Merchants Development Promotion Association, said the group has helped the vendors at the market transition to e-commerce after the city ordered the night market closed in late May.
Wanhua is not the only district to witness a decline in business.
More than half of the businesses on Yongkang Street in Daan District (大安) have temporarily closed, Dongmen Shopping District Development Association chairman Liu Hung-hsiang (劉鴻翔) said.
“Even if they were to open there would be no customers, and they would still need to pay water and power bills, employee wages and other expenses. So, they reluctantly opted to close,” he added.
Taipei Office of Commerce Director Kao Chen-yuan (高振源) said the city is offering businesses relief funds and is communicating with business owners regarding its plans for post-pandemic economic stimulus.
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