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Historic Tainan Department Store Blends Commerce and Heritage

Once one of the benchmark buildings of Tainan, a city in southern Taiwan, the 84-year-old Hayashi Department Store has been successfully restored to its former glory, with its new incarnation trading as a unique creative retail hub.

Photo: Hayashi: A creative break with conventional retailing concepts. (Shutterstock.com I.H. LIU)
Hayashi: A creative break with conventional retailing concepts.
Photo: Hayashi: A creative break with conventional retailing concepts. (Shutterstock.com I.H. LIU)
Hayashi: A creative break with conventional retailing concepts.

There are many department stores in Tainan, Taiwan's oldest city and its onetime capital, but few share the heritage and cultural significance of Hayashi. Today, its unusual approach sees the store's management team working closely with many of its tenant companies in order to develop new products, while its distinct shopping environment is said to combine an artistic sensibility with a true sense of history.

The original Hayashi Department Store was opened back in 1932, a time when the modern world was first starting to permeate into Taiwanese life. With electric lamps, telephones, cars and gramophones gradually becoming more commonplace across the territory, Hayashi Houichi, a Japanese businessman sensed the time was right to introduce a more contemporary shopping concept. When it opened, his eponymous store was the second largest in Taiwan and easily the largest and most modern in southern Taiwan.

When the Pacific War broke out in 1941, the everyday life of the store was frequently interrupted by US air raids. When the hostilities finally ceased, the building was re-purposed as the offices of the Taiwan Salt Works (today Taiyen Biotech) and the Salt Tax Police, a government body charged with ensuring the payment of the national salt levy. At the time, the roof of the building was also requisitioned as a site for an anti-aircraft installation. In 1988, the building was designated as a municipal heritage site, with ownership reverting to the Tainan City Government.

The subsequent restoration of the building was completed in 2013, with considerable effort having been made to preserve many of the site's original features, including a Shinto shrine constructed on the roof in 1933. The work also saw extensive repairs to the walls, with many of them still showing signs of the bomb and bullet damage inflicted during World War II. Perhaps most impressively, the original elevator has also been recreated, complete with numbered dials and a needle floor indicator.

A tender process, organised by Tainan's Cultural Affairs Bureau, saw Koche Development appointed to manage the restored site. The department store was then granted a new lease of life in June 2014 when it reopened, with its current incarnation having a particular focus on the creative and artistic sectors.

According to Stacy Tseng, a member of Koche's management team, the plan was to reinvent the building as a retail hub for Taiwan's creative sector. The company now operates Hayashi alongside Focus Square, an earlier addition to its retail portfolio in the city.

Tseng maintains that Hayashi operates in a very different way to the more conventional department stores. While, traditionally, such stores merely rent out counter space to retailers, Hayashi's management team prides itself on working very closely with its tenants. This sees the team very hands-on when it comes to assisting with business development, while also having dedicated members of staff available to assist with licensing, product development and procurement. To date, it has worked with its tenants on the development of more than 100 new products.

For many, this new business format has helped dispel the notion that commerce and heritage make uneasy partners. With visitors coming to Hayashi not just to shop, but also in search of a cultural experience, it seems the past majesty of this historic site has, indeed, been restored.

Tammy Hsieh, Taiwan Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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