Shops and restaurants at transport hubs struggle to survive as customers vanish

Japan Times -- Mar 06
The drop in passenger numbers on shinkansen trains and aircraft amid the COVID-19 pandemic is putting commercial facilities at stations and airports in a difficult situation, forcing many of them to close temporarily or for good, but some are offering new services appropriate for a post-pandemic era in order to survive.

On Feb. 19, many stores at Esca, an underground shopping center near the shinkansen ticket gates at Nagoya Station, had their shutters closed even during lunchtime. Some were displaying signs saying they were temporarily closed.

“Our customers used to be business travelers to Nagoya, but they aren’t coming any more,” said Takatoshi Hara, sales manager of the firm that operates Esca. “People are refraining from having lunch or dinner meetings. Office workers are teleworking and they don’t commute. It’s a triple punch.”

With its location near gates for the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, more than half of the facility’s customers were people who visited Nagoya from the Kanto and Kansai regions for business or pleasure.

Amid the pandemic, the number of shinkansen passengers dropped to one-third of that seen the previous year, which also hit sales at Esca stores.

Several restaurants and shops at Esca closed down last year, and four or five stores remain temporarily closed this year in response to a second state of emergency declared in January.

“The number of people coming to the underground mall has halved from the previous year, and sales have dropped significantly even during weekends and holidays — times when they usually rise,” Hara said. “We were still optimistic during the first state of emergency last spring, but now we have no prospects for a future.”

Sales cut by 80%

The situation is even tougher for stores at Chubu Centrair International Airport in Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture.

Half of all passengers had been traveling on international flights, so are unlikely to return soon, and domestic flights — which had been recovering since last fall — declined again after the second state of emergency was declared.

In February domestic flights remained at around 40% of pre-pandemic levels, with around 38 round trips a day. Only one airline is operating at the airport’s second terminal, dedicated to low-cost carriers.

Sales at commercial facilities at the airport dropped in 2020 to about 20% of the figure for the previous year. Sixty stores — roughly half of all tenants — are temporarily closed.

Out of about 130 stores that were operating before the pandemic, 14 including restaurants and clothing stores left. Four more shops, including the Isetan Centrair Store located in an area exclusively for domestic flight passengers, are scheduled to close.

- Japan Times