Not that long ago, Hong Kong billed itself to outsiders as a shoppers’ paradise, self-promotion that proved so successful that upwards of 60 million visitors swarmed to the city each year, the majority from mainland China. Those were heady days for the retail sector and landlords did what they do best – capitalise. Russell Street in Causeway Bay became the most expensive road in the world for retail space and shops reflected that in the luxury brands on show. But a year of anti-government protests and the Covid-19 crisis have put paid to the excess; the big names no longer have enough customers and are moving on, forcing property owners to lower charges and as a result, open the door to more humble businesses. Hong Kong’s attraction to mainland shoppers is the absence of taxes and the authenticity of products. As the disposable income of mainland Chinese grew, so did their numbers to the city and the retail sector took advantage. To the distress of some Hongkongers, streets in shopping districts began changing in character, catering more for the tastes of visitors than locals. Shops selling everyday necessities and favourite restaurants disappeared, replaced by upmarket brands and items not in keeping with the needs of neighbourhoods. Toy retailer shrugs aside Covid-19 to open fifth Lego shop in Hong Kong But then came the sometimes violent protests and the media images of police clashes and clouds of tear gas; the flood of tourists swiftly turned to a trickle. The coronavirus and border shutdowns struck another damaging blow to retail sales and they took a historic dip in the first quarter of this year, down by almost 37 per cent. With no predictable end to the crisis, the outlook is bleak and rents that were US$2,800 per square foot are fast falling. The luxury market, with limited demand for its products, is fast shrinking and on Russell Street, where once there was the Swiss watch maker Tissot is now a store selling accessories for mobile phones. Adaptability is a famed trait of Hongkongers and being realistic has got them through the toughest of times. Landlords are only too aware that the tourist trade will not return any time soon; there are predictions of two or three years. For practical-minded Hongkongers, shopping districts are for now once again meeting the needs of locals.