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Our View: Shopkeepers right to express gloom over new mall

a safepass is needed to enter a shoe shop

Fears are being expressed that the imminent opening of the Metropolis Mall in Larnaca would adversely affect the business of shops in the commercial centre of the town. A representative of retailers in the Larnaca centre said he expected at least a 20 per cent fall in turnover for these shops with the opening of the mall.

The secretary of Povek (small shops association) for the Larnaca district said the operation of the mall would most definitely affect shops, at least in the beginning when it will be a novelty, and everyone would want to visit. This is the optimistic approach, which ignores the experience of Nicosia, in which the malls radically changed the retail sector.

The Mall of Cyprus attracted many people away from the Nicosia centre and the main shopping street of Makarios Avenue saw numbers drastically fall long before the improvement works had begun. There are hopes that once the works, which seem to have been going on forever, finish and with Eleftheria Square completed people would return to the centre. They could do, but not necessarily for shopping.

It is no exaggeration to say that the appearance of malls has drastically changed consumer behaviour and shopping patterns, especially in the capital, which now has a second mall on the west side, sparing people the inconvenience of sitting in traffic to get to the centre and looking for parking space once they get there. Malls, although soulless, are much more convenient – plenty of parking space, air-conditioned, a variety of cafés and eateries, the major shops and all in the same place – for most people looking to manage their time.

In a big city there are enough people for both malls, on the outskirts of the city, and shops in the commercial centre to co-exist and be viable. For Cyprus, the total population of which is smaller than the population of an average-size city, things are different. It is becoming clear that our towns do not have the populations to sustain successful malls and thriving shopping streets in town centres. When we consider that Larnaca has a third of Nicosia’s population, if not less, the fears expressed by the shopkeepers are understandable.

Unfortunately there is no remedy to the situation. We live in an open economy, which cannot prevent businesspeople setting up malls to protect shops in the town centre, nor can people be told where to do their shopping. Town centres, in the end, will be left with the good restaurants, fashionable bars, popular cafés and some shops but the big share of retail trade will probably be taken by the malls. It is similar to the way the supermarkets have driven neighbourhood grocery stores out of business.

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