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Bus terminal shopping center gets an update

July 10,2017
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Before renovation: 62 small stores were housed at the Seoul Express Bus Terminal Station, which had a tiled floor and light bulbs. → After renovation: 35 famous brand stores are housed in the new underground shopping center ,which has a marble floor and LED illumination. [SEOUL METRO]
Ahn, 39, says she likes to visit the underground shopping center at Seoul Express Bus Terminal Station in southern Seoul just to look around, even when she has no plan to ride the subway, simply “because it’s become much better recently.”

Just last year, the average subway shopping center was home to a succession of fried snack stands and cheap no-name apparel stores. Now, polished marble floors, bright lights and neatly maintained placards grace the space along with cosmetics, clothing chains and fast food businesses.

In the last three years, four Seoul stations - Express Bus Terminal Line 3, Jamsil, Nowon and Gangnam District Office stations - have all undergone remodeling and contracts were signed for the Cheonho and Line 7 Seoul Express Bus Terminal stations earlier this month.

Seoul’s underground subway shopping centers first began two years after the opening of the Line 1 subway line, in 1976.

By 1981, there were 21. During the shopping arcades’ boom in the 1990s, some landlords gave out short-term leases to other prospective merchants and unusually high deposits were not uncommon. But sales dropped precipitously by 2010 with the onset of online retailers.

Seoul Metro, which operates and oversees Seoul’s subways, opted not to renew contracts with existing leaseholders and is renting out the spaces for the underground shopping centers to companies with more money. The longest leases are for 10 years.

“The shopping centers’ economic slump has been apparent since 2008,” said an official at Seoul Metro. “We were unable to verify their sales as they were independent business owners, but when I went by sometimes, there were no customers except Chinese tourists. Shopping centers used to grab attention with new trends and low prices but now young people buy those products online.”

The contract between the merchants and Seoul Express Bus Terminal Station’s shopping center ended in 2013, but construction was only possible in 2016 because of a two-year lawsuit by vendors. “If corporations manage the entire shopping center, they will not rent out to small shop owners like us,” said 55-year-old Park, a plaintiff of the lawsuit.

“Seoul Metro made it convenient for corporations,” one worried shopkeeper at Cheonho Station said, who added that they are demanding an audit by the Seoul Metropolitan government.

“To set up a balance for cafes, apparel shops and cosmetics stores,” said an employee at a company overseeing a shopping center, “we are selecting which shops to rent, giving preference to brands with good service.”

“I think people will like it as it is,” said a 55-year-old locksmith surnamed Oh, who works near one shopping arcade. “It’s regretful to see the people I’ve worked with leave, but there’s also nothing one can do about it.”

BY KIM NA-HAN [hwang.hosub@joongang.co.kr]