• Chunichi Shimbun

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The drop in passenger numbers on shinkansen trains and aircraft amid the COVID-19 pandemic is putting commercial facilities at stations and airports in a difficult situation, forcing many of them to close temporarily or for good, but some are offering new services appropriate for a post-pandemic era in order to survive.

On Feb. 19, many stores at Esca, an underground shopping center near the shinkansen ticket gates at Nagoya Station, had their shutters closed even during lunchtime. Some were displaying signs saying they were temporarily closed.

“Our customers used to be business travelers to Nagoya, but they aren’t coming any more,” said Takatoshi Hara, sales manager of the firm that operates Esca. “People are refraining from having lunch or dinner meetings. Office workers are teleworking and they don’t commute. It’s a triple punch.”

With its location near gates for the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, more than half of the facility’s customers were people who visited Nagoya from the Kanto and Kansai regions for business or pleasure.

Amid the pandemic, the number of shinkansen passengers dropped to one-third of that seen the previous year, which also hit sales at Esca stores.

Several restaurants and shops at Esca closed down last year, and four or five stores remain temporarily closed this year in response to a second state of emergency declared in January.

“The number of people coming to the underground mall has halved from the previous year, and sales have dropped significantly even during weekends and holidays — times when they usually rise,” Hara said. “We were still optimistic during the first state of emergency last spring, but now we have no prospects for a future.”

Sales cut by 80%

The situation is even tougher for stores at Chubu Centrair International Airport in Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture.

Half of all passengers had been traveling on international flights, so are unlikely to return soon, and domestic flights — which had been recovering since last fall — declined again after the second state of emergency was declared.

In February domestic flights remained at around 40% of pre-pandemic levels, with around 38 round trips a day. Only one airline is operating at the airport’s second terminal, dedicated to low-cost carriers.

Sales at commercial facilities at the airport dropped in 2020 to about 20% of the figure for the previous year. Sixty stores — roughly half of all tenants — are temporarily closed.

Out of about 130 stores that were operating before the pandemic, 14 including restaurants and clothing stores left. Four more shops, including the Isetan Centrair Store located in an area exclusively for domestic flight passengers, are scheduled to close.

Post-pandemic services

But some stores are responding to the changes brought about by the pandemic.

In December, Nomura Real Estate Development Co. newly opened its office sharing facility, H1T, in Esca, becoming the first operator of such a service at the facility where other tenants are mainly restaurants and shops.

At 50 square meters, H1T has six rooms that can be rented by the hour for meetings or for work by people visiting Nagoya on business.

“We believe that needs for shared offices will expand further after the pandemic, since they help increase working style options,” said a representative of the company. “We opened the facility in Esca, located close to the shinkansen station, because our target customers are people coming from Tokyo for business.”

Hara of Esca also highlights such social changes. “From now on, we need to take advantage of our location and have tenants who can respond to demands in line with the post-pandemic new normal,” Hara said.

The operator of the Chubu airport is planning to renovate Terminal 1 in the coming fiscal year with funds from the government’s fiscal investment and loan program.

The renovation plan includes expanding smart lanes where tray movements are automated to speed up the baggage inspection process for departing passengers, and refurbishing a souvenir shop for the first time in nine years.

Directly managed stores in the airport will also be reviewed. French restaurant Alice Dining will be closed in May, and a facility to promote nine prefectures in the Chubu region, which was set up in response to a surge in visitors from abroad, will be closed at the end of March.

Although what will replace these facilities is yet to be determined, a representative for the airport operator said, “The airport will become vibrant again if passenger numbers recover. We hope to carefully consider the kind of business that fits with the times.”

Most Esca stores reopened after the state of emergency was lifted for the region on March 1.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 22.

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