Lack of sentiment damaging our city

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2011, 12:00am


Shanghai Tang is a brand born and bred in Hong Kong - one that did well, flourished and went international. It is the type of business that anyone of entrepreneurial spirit would like to have created and grown and Hong Kong should be proud of its success.

But being home-grown, famous and a loyal tenant mean little to the owner of the Pedder Building, where the company's flagship store has been located on the ground floor and in the basement since it was established 17 years ago. The owner has booted out the firm after receiving an offer of two-and-a-half-times the previous rent from the American clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.

The story was the same for an even more veteran tenant of the building, the China Tee Club, which had been on the first floor and which closed last month after 25 years. Like Shanghai Tang, which specialises in chic Chinese clothing, it seemed a perfect match for the 87-year-old Grade II historical structure. But property companies are not sentimental and landlords can charge what they like. As the shopping boom created by mainland tourists surges, overseas luxury brands are willing to pay whatever it takes to get a slice of the action.

In every popular shopping district, the fate that befell Shanghai Tang is being repeated. The face of our city is being changed, with familiar shops, restaurants and stores that sell our everyday needs being forced out. In their place come retailers who more often than not have their sights squarely on out-of-town visitors. Some will relocate, as Shanghai Tang will do, while others will be gone for good, like the China Tee Club. There is nothing that can be done, nor should there be - this is how business is done in our city. But landlords should also keep in mind the virtues of a loyal tenant and their worth not just in rent being paid on time, but in value to Hong Kong.

Driving out local firms risks killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Stifling entrepreneurship, creativity and the needs of Hong Kong people will, in the long run, be damaging to our city.