Soft launch drawing Hongkongers to border shopping town reflects shift in retail strategy
Outdoor outlet-style mall near checkpoint once targeted mainland visitors
A border shopping town originally intended for mainland shoppers has shifted its retail strategy as hundreds of Hongkongers flocked to the venue for a carnival on New Year’s Eve ahead of its official launch next year.
While shops at the outlet-style mall The Boxes in San Tin – a stone’s throw away from the Lok Ma Chau border checkpoint – were expected to open in February, visitors at the event on Sunday mostly voiced optimism the venture would fare well in the long run.
Their optimism was shared by the project’s mastermind, lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong, who was “fully confident” all the unleased shops would soon be snapped up.
This was despite radical changes in Hong Kong’s retail and tourism sectors over the past few years, which saw an initial decline of mainland visitors before the numbers gradually rebounded.
Taking 30 months from planning to completion, the mall consists of 214 shops as well as restaurants and family-friendly entertainment options. It is due to open in February.
As shops raced round the clock to complete renovation works, the venue welcomed its first batch of visitors on Sunday by holding a carnival that featured game booths, a giant inflatable slide and snack stalls.
Wong, a well-known businessman, said he sought to gauge how the facilities would cope with the crowds.
“At first it was only a closed-door event, but somehow the public found out about it so we decided to open the doors to everyone,” he explained.
Visitors were mostly satisfied. Andrew Kong of Quarry Bay – a 45-minute drive by car – said he would visit again when all the shops were open for business.
“This place is quite special as it is outdoors and very spacious,” he said. “Of course I can buy everything elsewhere, but we can spend a day here away from the city.”
But some complained about access to the remote location. A number of bus and minibus routes pass by the venue, but many visitors said they did not know where exactly to get off.
Wong added he was in talks with the Transport Department to set up shuttle bus services.
He also expressed confidence the HK$150 million (US$19 million) construction cost – about 30 per cent over budget – could be recouped.
“If all the shops are leased out, we would receive HK$10.8 million every month,” he said. “After paying the bank loans and operating expenses, I expect to make HK$300,000 to HK$400,000 [a month].” But he stressed that all profits would go into a charitable fund.
Only half of the shops have been leased at the moment, but the lawmaker was not worried.
“There is a very strong interest for our space,” he said, adding he “had to turn away some interested parties such as car dealers and e-gaming operators” as they did not meet the project’s aim.