The opening of the MTR’s West Island Line has brought fewer visitors but higher rents to the Sai Wan area, a survey has found.
A year after Sai Ying Pun, HKU and Kennedy Town stations went into operation, higher rents have forced 720 shops in the area hemmed in by Eastern Street, Water Street, Queen’s Road West and High Street to change, according to the Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage (CACHe).
The NGO found that 137 of these—close to 19 percent of the total—had been emptied, shut down or changed into another business, Ming Pao reported.
Western Street experienced the most changes, with 30 percent of the street having changed over the year. On nearby High Street, 22 shops (23 percent) have changed. Nine of these closed, and others have seen changes in tenants or industries, such as an automobile repair shop that became a wine boutique.
Business owner Mr Wong, who ran a photo shop on Western Street for 37 years, told the newspaper that the property owner increased the rent by some ten percent after the MTR extension, opened, and he has since had to close shop.
Wong said that before the West Island Line opened, those living on streets higher up on the hill had to walk down Western Street to get their bus. The new stations brought about a five percent decrease in visitors, he said, adding that the street had become “shockingly quiet”.
Ms Chu, who runs a flower shop on High Street, said that landlords had assumed that visitor numbers would increase as the neighbourhood was made more easily accessible, and therefore raised rents up to 30 percent.
However, she says, the streets have become quieter—especially during long holidays—and her funds set aside for hiring extra staff have all been spent on rent instead.
Third Street restauranteur Mr Yeung said he moved to Sai Wan because he could not afford the rent in SoHo; now, though, he struggles to attract enough walk-in customers.
Economist Andy Kwan Cheuk-Chiu said that Sai Wan is an old district with high elderly population, and that with no large shopping malls or well-known specialty streets nearby, the jump in visitors that many expected the MTR to bring has not materialised.