Where you can bring the taste of Tainan back home—Hayashi Department Store

06 2018 | Issue 27

Text/Hazel Ma

Hayashi Department Store is the oldest department store in Taiwan. It has been around for 86 years, witnessing ups and downs on this East-Asian island. Considered as a historical landmark built in Taiwan when the island was under Japanese rule, Hayashi Department Store is now Taiwan’s very first department store of cultural and creative products after renovation, telling the stories of a thriving Tainan in the modern age. Vicky Chen, Hayashi Department Store’s general manager from Taipei, will walk us through the journey Hayashi Department Store had embarked on. 

Innovation from a historical site

Today’s Hayashi Department Store is a comprehensive shopping destination providing customers with cultural and creative products, souvenirs, and catering options. The department store is now a hot tourist destination in Tainan and hipsters even see the five-storey-high department store a must-go destination. Each floor of Hayashi Department Store has its own theme. The first floor, for example, is the place where you can find local specialties, food, and souvenirs, named as Tainan Feast. The second floor is called Innovative Design, featuring cultural and creative products, handcrafts and more. If you are in the mood for some fashion shopping, then the third floor, Fashion Stylish, is your floor. Fashion items such as stylish clothes, accessories, and other lifestyle goods are available on the third floor. Moving upwards, you will reach the Culture Salon, a museum event hall that organises seminars and exhibitions regularly. The department store’s café, Hayashi Café, is also located on the fourth floor. The fifth floor is called Unique Cuisine, where you get a bite of Tainan. Two restaurants offering authentic Taiwanese cuisines and local snacks are available to choose from. In Tainan, locals will treat their guests with the best refreshment they have in their household. The department store’s first floor is designed as a living room, a design aims to show such local hospitality to visitors. It’s also a site that aggregates the best produce in Tainan. 

Open on 5 December in 1932, Hayashi Department Store was the second largest department store in Taiwan. It marked the beginning of a modern and robust era for Taiwan. After the WWII ended, the department store was converted for other purposes for several times and was even once deserted. It wasn’t until 1998 that the department store started to undergo renovation after it was recognised as a historical site of the city. In 2014, Hayashi Department Store officially reopened with the vision of “letting the world see Tainan”. According to the current general manager, Vicky Chen, Hayashi Department Store was a hot potato that nobody dared to take over at that time. 

A historical site, cultural and creative department store, and hot potato?

It’s not an easy task to redesign a historical site, as any renovation cannot change the complete appearance of the building. Not even an extra nail can appear on the wall. There are a lot of things to consider for renewing Hayashi Department Store. For instance, they needed to cover all the air conditioners installed in the building. They also needed to plan the installing of the elevators and meet the requirements of the fire department. Chen wanted the world to see this historical site and decided to take over the department store despite the slim chance of profiting. “Nobody would want to take over historical sites, because everyone thought it’s going to cause them to lose money. The reborn Hayashi Department Store makes the public see the historical site once again. And its success should bring people new ideas,” she said. 

When the bidding started, the government of Tainan clearly positioned Hayashi Department Store as a department store of cultural and creative products. In the very beginning, Hayashi Department Store tried to attract businesses to invest in shop spaces through the traditional model but failed. The team then changed their approach and started to develop their own products. Now the department store boasts over ten thousand self-developed merchandise, which sets the department store apart from the crowd. 

Showcasing the local culture

Hayashi Department Store is dedicated to showcasing Tainan’s local culture fused with innovation to the world. The department store develops products in partnership with renowned old brands to present local culture to the visitors. “Hayashi Department Store’s merchandise is unique, you don’t see them everywhere. We have been to every corner of Tainan, even the countryside, to talk to people running old shops and appeal to businesses. Many of the old shops’ products can now be found in our department store,” Chen introduced. “Our team reinvents the products with innovation. We redesign and repackage them. We tell Tainan’s stories through those products and appeal to customers.” 

She believes that Taiwan has a lot of great brands, but the cost and lack of knowledge in business operation hinder their success. Now Hayashi Department Store provides the opportunity for them to go on shelves. The department store has a team to package the brands and provides business space in exchange for a commission, saving the cost of the brands. This allows them to focus on designing new products and have access to promotional and sales opportunities. “From my perspective, brands should really think about what features they can bring to the table and work to find their strengths. Then they showcase their strengths through creativity, making their brands unique. This will make them more competitive in the market,” Chen said. 

Showing the best of Taiwan

The local government in Taiwan is very supportive of the cultural and creative industry. It also provided a lot of support to Hayashi Department Store in promotion. The Tourism Bureau, for example, will also introduce Hayashi Department Store when promoting Taiwan’s tourism overseas. Tourist is Hayashi Department Store’s main customer source, who is most likely to be one-time visitor to the department store. In addition to that, there are lots of cultural and creative products on the market nowadays. So why would customers choose Hayashi Department Store again? Chen pointed out that in order to appeal to customers to revisit, they need to make adjustments to the environment in the department store to improve the vibe and develop new products on a yearly basis. Through these, she hopes that customers would find it different every time they revisit the store. Chen is wishing to bring Hayashi Department Store to overseas markets, alongside with Taiwan’s specialties. 

In recent years, cultural and creative malls have been emerging in Macao. Old buildings and streets are becoming the playground for the cultural and creative industry. Perhaps, the success of Hayashi Department Store could be a great example of renovating historical sites and managing cultural and creative malls for Macao to learn from. Macao also has its own unique local culture and lots of specialties, which should also enter the overseas markets and reach more people.