Luxury brands and high rents threaten old Hong Kong's character
The arrival of a Ralph Lauren store on Hollywood Road, renowned for its antique and art shops, is just one example of the changing face of the city
I live on Hollywood Road, which has been known as "antique street" for many years, thanks to all the antique and artwork shops scattered around the area. However, I am not sure if the street will keep its unique character in the years to come.
I moved to an apartment on Hollywood Road in 2010 and immediately fell in love with my neighbourhood. It's quite an easy walk to the offices and hotels in Central, and it's certainly far less noisy than the busy financial district. When I walk home I sometimes feel it is like a temporary escape from the busy business world.
When you walk past those old antique shops and some contemporary and modern art-work galleries, it feels a bit like going between the history and the future. But in the past three years, I've also seen some changes of the scene on Hollywood Road - in short, more bars, restaurants and fashion shops, and fewer things related to antiques or art.
The latest case is a Ralph Lauren store, which takes up an entire street corner for its new flagship shop in Hong Kong on Hollywood Road. Before the shop's official opening, the building was wrapped up in a cover with a huge RL logo on it, shocking some of its neighbours, including my family.
I like Ralph Lauren's polo shirts and travel bags, but when I first saw the big RL logo on Hollywood Road, I was not sure why Ralph Lauren came to this historically important street that has not too much to do with the luxury business.
Traditionally, luxury brands often like to take big spaces in shopping malls like IFC and Landmark in the Central business district.
For business, Hollywood Road may be considered a sort of second-class choice.
Some say the rent in Central for luxury shops has reached a level that many cannot continue to afford, and so they have decided to move to the so-called second-class choice like Hollywood Road. Others may want to continue to expand their business in Central, the most high-end area in Hong Kong for luxury lovers and shoppers, but they cannot find enough space there.
Ralph Lauren is not the only newcomer to the area; many other luxury brands have set up shop in the neighbourhood including Gough Street, where a restaurant was forced to shut down after decades in operation due to rent pressure.
Apparently the government is not against more luxury and fashion shops taking up space on Hollywood Road and the old streets nearby. With the completion of the renovation of two key historic buildings on Hollywood Road in the coming years, including the old Central Police Station and the former Police Married Quarters, the government expects to attract more visitors to the neighbourhood.
For people like me who live on Hollywood Road and those who care about Hong Kong being more than just a place to do business, do we need more bars and restaurants and luxury shops or do we care more about maintaining the unique flavour of the street?
Perhaps what is happening on Hollywood Road is a fair reflection of how the city can be shaped in the coming years. Asia's World City? Or just Asia's World Shopping Mall?
George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit facebook.com/mrshangkong