Opinion / Chen Weihua

Find way to revive time-honored brands

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2013-04-12 07:12

Find way to revive time-honored brandsShanghai used to be known for its historical landmarks such as the Bund and Yuyuan Garden, and also the many time-honored stores that flanked the Nanjing Road and Huaihai Road.

Today, while the Bund and Yuyuan Garden are still major attractions, drawing tourists from across the world, those time-honored stores, from restaurants to specialty shops, have either disappeared or are relegated, even to the lowest ranks.

On Tuesday, I took my mom to the Red House Restaurant, hoping to rediscover the glamour of what was once the city's best French restaurant and a regular haunt of the writer Ailing Zhang.

The red-brick facade facing Huaihai Road still charms and the newly decorated bar and dining room on the second floor look neat, yet they lack history. The menu still lists once signature dishes such as baked clams, baked prawns in cheese and oxtail soup, yet the flavor and the presentation are neither pleasing to the eyes nor taste buds. Worse was the service. Inattentive waitresses kept chatting among themselves, typical of most State-run restaurants. Only a quarter of the tables were occupied, even though it was prime time for lunch.

Clearly the Red House, which was once a synonym among locals for the best French or Western food, no longer lives up to its former glory.

It was the same when I visited several other time-honored restaurants such as Wang Jia Sha on Nanjing Road. Its dumplings, once regarded a delicacy among locals, have become a huge disappointment. My experiences at Xiao Shao Xing, Shen Da Cheng, Xing Hua Lou, three other time-honored restaurants, were equally unpleasant.

And this is after the local city and district governments' repeated pledge and efforts in the past decades to restore the past glory of those time-honored stores and brands, which exceed 500 in Shanghai.

While the local government may take credit for modernizing Shanghai in just two decades, including building an impressive skyline and an extensive subway network, it has failed miserably in reviving the time-honored brands that distinguish Shanghai from other Chinese cities.

This is truly ironic when these government leaders often talk about nurturing local brands as a way to thrive in the tough market place. Those time-honored brands, built with the hard work of generations of private businessmen, have been destroyed under the watch of our generation.

The local government leaders, unfortunately, seem to firmly believe that relocating those time-honored stores from their prime locations and giving these spaces to more profitable international brands such as H&M, Gap and Uniqlo make more business sense.

Nanjing Road, dubbed China's No 1 shopping street, was once home to more than 60 time-honored stores, but now only a dozen still operate there. The street looks no different from the main shopping streets in other Chinese cities.

After bulldozing much of the old neighborhoods in the rush to modernize, Shanghai has been making great efforts to try and salvage its historical landmarks, such as the distinctive stone-arched shikumen houses and old factory buildings, yet it has not found the way to revive those time-honored stores and brands.

Efforts in the past few years to relocate some time-honored stores to a section on Shaanxi Road have proved to be unsuccessful as these stores no longer have their original identity and vitality.

Shanghai must find a better way to revive these time-honored brands. Trashing these great historical assets with a wrong relocation and expansion strategy is even worse than keeping them in the museum. That, at least, leaves a good memory.

But I doubt if the local leaders know what Shanghai is losing with the destruction of these time-honored brands.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA. E-mail: chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily 04/12/2013 page8)

Most Viewed Today's Top News