Nanjing Road turns into a multipurpose excursion destination

Li Qian
STARBUCKS' first roastery in China has been described as the last piece of the puzzle in a sweeping commercial makeover of the Nanjing Road W. area in the vibrant Jing'an District.
Li Qian
Nanjing Road turns into a multipurpose excursion destination
Ti Gong

The HKRI Taikoo Hui business, shopping and entertainment hub is a prime example of the new face of the Nanjing Road West area.

STARBUCKS’ first roastery in China, located at the newly opened HKRI Taikoo Hui mall, has been described as the last piece of the puzzle in a sweeping commercial makeover of the Nanjing Road W. area.

The project has ushered in unique shopping experiences, performing arts, international cuisine and historic heritage to one of the most vibrant areas of Jing’an District.

The HKRI Taikoo Hui business, shopping and entertainment hub is a prime example of the area’s new face. Unlike the same old treadmill of shopping malls, HKRI Taikoo Hui brings new meaning to the “experience economy” -- a concept of retailers getting customers involved by creating in-store immersive and interactive experiences.

Shoppers can now experience driving electric Tesla cars in a virtual setting, learn baking in City Super, view art exhibitions and join interactive activities in pop-up stores, said Wan Yaorong, an official with the Jing’an Commercial Commission.

“Consumers nowadays want more than just a shopping venue,” said district director Lu Xiaodong. “Retailers need to make breakthroughs by blending fashion, culture, art, design and interactive experiences.”

Many Jing’an retailers are excited by the new concepts. In the first 10 months of this year, they reported a 24 percent year-on-year increase in sales, making it one of the most profitable districts in Shanghai.

Nostalgic ambience

Nanjing Road W. sits at the heart of the new wave.

The new shikumen-style Fengshengli offers historical and cultural themes reminiscent of the popular Xintiandi area.

The nostalgic ambience causes passers-by to stop, take photos and step into chic shops and eateries. The center is home to global dining chains like the Hard Rock Cafe and Goose Island Brewhouse.

Some blocks away, Reel Mall is fast becoming another popular rendezvous for the youth generation.

Its B2 floor is full of eateries offering cuisines from around the world. Its fourth floor is dotted with handicrafts workshops. Last year, Zhongshuge, described as China’s most beautiful bookstore, opened an outlet there.

“To attract businesses that appeal to consumers, Reel offered rentals below market prices,” said Wan.

Starbucks calls its new Roastery store an artistic coffee theater. But in the backstreets off Nanjing Road, a real theatrical renaissance has replaced an abandoned, rundown former factory and office complex.

At the corner of Jiangning and Beijing roads, the McKinnon Hotel has been refurbished into a 1930s-era theatrical venue. A year ago, it began hosting the Asian debut of the popular interactive play “Sleep No More, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” conceived by the British theater company Punchdrunk and sponsored by Shanghai Media Group (SMG) .

Putting on masks, audience members move freely through a variety of theatrically designed rooms, admonished to remain silence along the way as they explore the storyline and have interactive experiences with performers.

The play has been so popular that some people reportedly have participated 100 or more times. One of those fans is Wendy Xu, 35.

“Just think about using the setting of a whole building in downtown Jing’an District for just one theater program,” she said. “It is just extravagant as 1930s Shanghai, when the story is set.”

Drama culture

“Sleep No More” has played to more than 100,000 people, raking in nearly 60 million yuan (US$9 million) in its yearlong run. It has broken box-office records for drama in Shanghai. Tickets for the 200th and one-year anniversary performance were sold out within 10 minutes.

A “Sleep No More”-themed hotel, just beside th e theater, has become a popular overnight destination.

“We want to create not only a venue but also an experience of drama culture,” said Ma Chencheng, vice president of SMG Live. “We want to encourage audiences to see the play, stay at the hotel, have a meal and hang out in the bar.”

The McKinnon joints the historic Majestic Theater and the Yihai Theater as venues being groomed to rival New York’s Broadway or London’s West End.

“It’s a good try to blend different industries together,” Ma said. “It gives white-collar workers, a major population group in the Nanjing Road area, a reason to hang around into the evening.”

Another piece of the area’s renovation is the historic Rong Villa on the corner of Nanjing and Shaanxi roads. It’s the former residence of Rong Zongjing (1873-1938), an industrial tycoon who built a commercial empire in China. His nephew Rong Yiren served as vice president of China from 1993-98.

In October, the villa, in all its classic beaux-arts and art deco glory, opened to the public for the first time in nearly a century after a six-year restoration undertaken by current tenant Prada.

Prada Chief Executive Patrizio Bertelli said the group will promote its own products and also stage public activities and exhibitions for people to access history and art.

The well-restored villa has become a popular destination and is expected to boost sales in Prada’s flagship store in Plaza 66 just across the street.

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