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Kokusai facelift may not solve shop owner woes

Date Posted: 2006-05-22

A three-year beautification project for downtown Naha’s Kokusai Street is improving appearances, but doesn’t appear to be enough to solve problems with a declining customer base.

The project, which will be complete in 2007, moves all electrical lines underground to remove unsightly utility poles and allow for expanding the roadway and sidewalks. Already, trees have been removed along the two-mile strip and the road widened from four meters to 4.74 meters.

Once the road renovations are complete, officials say greenery, benches and shopper facilities will be installed. The Director of the Kokusai Street Arcade Promotion Union says he doesn’t think it will be enough to save the businesses.

Yoshohide Tamanaha says “The street view will change nicely, but the shops must be changed too, to be more appealing for shoppers.”

The trouble, Tamanaha says, is that without people spending money, store owners don’t have the funds to make the improvements. His group is working on promotions and special events to attract shoppers, but there are several problems being wrestled with to make Kokusai Street attractive to visitors.

Parking is a major problem. It is in short supply, and is expensive. It is also inconvenient, says Tamanaha. Shoppers want convenience, and don’t want to go where parking is difficult. He notes the competition is fierce on Okinawa, and says places like Chatan Town, which has large, free parking areas, are tough to go up against.

New shopping centers and malls across the island, including Omoromachi’s Main Place, and JUSCO stores in several cities, are hard to compete with. His goal is to slowly build a new customer base by making things as nice as possible.

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