Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Empty Shops

Posted by butalidnl on 18 August 2011

There are two shops that will be empty soon in the shopping center (Wagnerplein, in Tilburg, the Netherlands) near where I live. One was a lingerie store, and another was something like a permanent clearance sale, selling stuff from excess inventories. Whenever a shop leaves our shopping center, I wonder if they are leaving because there is not enough of a market for what they sell, or because of another reason entirely. When the video rental shop left, it was obvious – people were now buying CDs, many through the internet, that so few still wanted to rent videos. (I notice that in some poorer areas, though, there are CD rental stores, though.) The Chinese restaurant left, giving way to a bank. The restaurant was doing well, but the bank made them an offer that they couldn’t refuse. A music store closed shop, giving way to a travel agency; making the shopping center now have 2 travel agencies and one music store, instead of the other way around.

There used to be a store selling fresh vegetables and salads. I miss that store; I used to buy there when I only had little to buy, instead of going through the grocery. The place is now a hairdressing salon. Does this mean that having your hair cut and dyed is now more important than fresh vegetables?

Since the Wagnerplein is an ‘A’ location, I think that the shops will be replaced by new ones. They always are; well, almost always. There is one space that is extremely ‘unlucky’ – I think shops only last one or two years at that location. It has extremely bad feng shui – being at the head of a ‘T’ crossing. Also, it is quite small – something like 25 square meters.  It is currently empty.  Most spaces are taken over almost immediately, and I fully expect that this would be the case for the two spaces that are going to be vacant soon.

The changes in the mix of shops reflects progress or other changes in society. In the last three years I witnessed the demise of the video rental shop. But also the coming of two new optical shops; it seems that the standardization of lenses has made for increased competition in the market for eyeglass frames and sunglasses. The coming of a bank indicates the renewed importance of retail banking, after the banking crash of 2008-2009. Wagnerplein used to have 4 banks, then about 4 years ago it became 1, and now it will be two banks.

Some shops adjust with the times. The photo shops used to be the place to buy and develop films. Now, it sells cameras and camera accessories, does colored printing, makes special products with photo in it e.g. key chains, mouse pads, greeting cards, and prints digital photos. The toy shop is half-filled with electronic games.

Of course, when shop spaces are empty, it indicates something else – an economic crisis (either local or national).  Some other cities have a crisis in their shopping centers; with some having vacancy rates of up to 15%. This is terrible for a shopping center, and could signal its further slide as a shopping destination.

I also noticed that the kinds of shops at Wagnerplein are different from other shopping centers in poorer neighborhoods. These would often have an ‘exotic’ bakery – I noticed one shopping center with 10 shops, where you could buy bread in 4 places ( 3 bakeries and one grocery). I wonder how long this situation would last. And then, they invariably have a store selling sim cards and phones (and which also sell pens, paper, magazines, tobacco products…) No, not marijuana – that is sold mainly on ‘C’ streets, in special shops. Business there is always booming.

It seems that new technology and the internet do not spell the end of shops. Rather it just forces changes in the mix of the shops and of what the shops have to offer. I think that people will always need shopping centers.

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