Nanjing Road extends its remarkable history by capturing the latest trends
Nanjing Road E., the so-called "Fifth Avenue" of Shanghai, has undergone many incarnations in its 150 years. Its latest manifestation aims to attract the younger generation smitten with the culture of anime, comics and games.
Earlier this month, many stores catering to that culture moved from the underground Hong Kong Shopping Center at People's Square to the Shanghai No.1 Shopping Center at one end of the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall.
The mall was once the site of the old Shanghai No. 1 Department Store, the largest of its kind in the Far East when it opened in 1934. The venue underwent major remodeling in 2017. The fourth floor of its Building C houses shops specializing in anime, comics and games.
It's a different world from traditional retailing there, with vendors selling Lolita dresses, Pikachu dolls and figures of cartoon characters.
"At the very beginning, when we were told we had to move from the Hong Kong Shopping Center, we felt a bit sad because there had been a cluster of shops specializing in anime, comics and games there for a long time and with a good atmosphere," said Xue Yu, a shop assistant of Baomoon, a store selling figures and capsule toys.
"But now, after the move, our old customers still come to visit us," he said. "Our store and the others decided to recreate the atmosphere of the former site in the Shanghai No.1 Shopping Center."
Two girls, named Endl and Rose, were in one shop wearing clothes patterned on the costumes of characters from the Japanese manga series "The Case Study of Vanitas" and domestic game Genshin Impact.
"With these shops at a major local shopping center, I feel that this culture is growing from a minority trend into mainstream culture," one of the girls told Shanghai Daily.
Another female customer named Qin Yan, dressed in traditional Han Chinese garb, said the new venue seems a "bit more formal" than the previous site and still lacks the buzz of fans gathering there to exchange cards and pins of animation, manga or game characters.
"It sort of lacks some atmosphere here," she said.
About a 10-minute walk along the pedestrian mall, Bailian ZX, the first commercial complex in China to promote the culture of anime, comics, games and novels, injected vitality into 150-year-old Nanjing Road with the opening of the Bailian ZX Creative Center.
The seven-floor mall creates a place of pilgrimage for fans of the culture, featuring some high-profile world brands, including the first overseas store of Tamashii Nations and the first Chinese store of Mega House.
According to a report by China Insights Consultancy, the domestic market for such culture reached 63.2 billion yuan (US$9.3 billion) in 2021, with a fan base of nearly 460 million people.
The shops at Bailian ZX cover all styles of the genre and include themed cafes.
Maosou House, a brand that opened in the city six years ago, has merged its outlets in the Hong Kong Shopping Center and Bailian ZX into one store on Nanjing Road.
"Although the days we spent with our customers at the Hong Kong Shopping Center are unforgettable, we feel this is a good chance to popularize the culture and expand its reach," said shop assistant Du Cao.
On the third floor, a customer surnamed Zhang was buying accessories for her ball-jointed doll.
"At first, I came here with a friend who wanted to buy some products," she said. "Then I found this store and fell in love with these dolls. Since it's easy to get here by Metro, I come very often."
Maid Jump Goods Cafe is one of the eateries in the Bailian ZX complex.
"We've been open for eight years and used to cooperate with many Japanese and domestic shops specializing in anime, comics and games, such as Sailor Moon, Arknights and FGO," said Dong Lingzi, who works in the cafe. "Now we design special cuisine based on popular elements."
Nanjing Road E., which holds many fond memories for the older generation, has become popular with young customers, especially the "Gen Z" born after the mid-1990s.
That generation now accounts for an estimated 44 percent of the about 200 million annual visitors to the pedestrian street. People born between the 1980s and mid-1990s account for another 25 percent of total visitors.
Nanjing Road used to be dominated by time-honored old brands, but the pedestrian streets today is home to many more modern brands. Blind-box retailer Pop Mart and Lego have opened flagship stores on the street.
Traditional brands like Maochang glasses, HengdeliClock & Watch, Guanlong Photographic Equipment and Zhen Laodafang mooncake bakery have undergone renovation to keep up with the times.
Nanjing Road, constructed in 1851, was formerly known as Park Lane. It originally stretched from the Bund to a race track on what is today Henan Road. It was extended to Zhejiang Road in 1854, and later stretched to Xizang Road in 1862.
Nanjing Road E. was converted to a pedestrian street in 1999, enhancing its appeal to locals and tourists. The pedestrian street was further extended to the Bund in 2020.