The problems of the city center are a complicated knot that would require more residents, interesting jobs and top attractions to solve, says the former mayor of Helsinki.
Stockmann’s losing the department store would be a “huge setback” for the vitality of downtown Helsinki, says the city’s former mayor Jan Vapaavuori (cook).
“Almost all slightly larger European cities have one or more major department stores in the core. Stockmann is the most iconic example of them in Helsinki. It strongly symbolizes the core of Helsinki.”
According to Vapaavuori, the department store that serves a wide range of target groups – residents, employees and tourists – and is open daily and all year round, is of great importance to the flow of people in the city center and other operators.
Vapaavuori emphasizes that he is commenting on the situation in the center of Helsinki specifically in the role of a former mayor. He currently works as an expert in consultancy office Miltton and real estate development company Nrepi.
Vapaavuori is also the chairman of the Finnish Olympic Committee.
Manwho stops by the department store, probably uses other services in the center as well, Vapaavuori reasons.
So it’s not just about the fate of one company. At the same time, Helsinki competes for attention, interest and competitiveness with other Northern European metropolises.
“If the most iconic, significant and traditional department store falls here, it gives a bad image of the city and, in fact, the whole country.”
Stockmann announced on Monday that it is investigating the sale of its department store business and is considering changing its name. The company has struggled with profitability problems for a long time.
Arguments Vapaavuori doesn’t think that the era of department stores is over.
“The breakthrough in online shopping, the increase in remote work and other changes in circumstances cannot be underestimated. But the conclusion that the department store business is dead and has no chance of success is wrong. There are still many successful department stores in city centers around the world.”
He believes that Stockmann will have a department store in the future as well, albeit under a different name.
“The vitality of the center is one of Helsinki’s most critical issues.”
According to Vapaavuori, Stockmann’s problems can largely be blamed on Stockmann himself. According to him, the company has made a huge number of business management mistakes over the decades.
As one example, he mentions the sale of Herku, or Ruokakaupa, to the S group.
“It is no longer the same as before. In the past, Herkku was in itself the reason to come to Stockmann.”
Vapaavuori still admits that Helsinki’s political decision-makers have also made mistakes. Building several gigantic shopping centers near the center was not wise for him.
On the other hand, the city cannot try on behalf of the entrepreneur, says Vapaavuori.
“Even good conditions are not enough if there are no attractive products and working business concepts.”
Stockmann’s the problems are connected to a wider social problem. The offices are empty and underutilized because some of the employees have moved permanently to hybrid work due to the corona pandemic. In addition, tourism coughs.
“We suffered from the effects of the Russian war more than most others. We have lost Asian and Russian customers who spent money.”
According to Vapaavuori, resolving the crisis would require strong leadership.
“The vitality of the center is one of Helsinki’s most critical issues. You have to fight for it seriously and spectacularly. Too little and too slowly is happening here now. The city management, downtown property owners and companies operating there should join forces and cooperate better.”
Recently, there has been a discussion about whether more residents should be brought to the core of Helsinki. Vapaavuori also flags for it, but that alone will not revive the city center for him.
Residents in addition, in Vapaavuori’s opinion, the city center needs people who work there, events, more attractive commercial services, more interesting evening and night life and an urban space that inspires families with children.
“The main thing is that people want to come downtown and spend time there.”
Vapaavuori considers the Guggenheim art museum a huge missed opportunity. He reminds us that opportunities of this size rarely come along, and big successes can create self-fulfilling positive cycles.
In the new Architecture and Design Museum, Vapaavuori sees opportunities to develop even into an internationally interesting destination.
“There should now be a strong investment in its success.”
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