60.2 F
Los Angeles
Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Central Seoul’s Myeongdong is back and attracting locals and foreigners alike

Must read

Food trucks and people fill the streets of Myeongdong in central Seoul, on Nov. 17. [YONHAP]
Food trucks and people fill the streets of Myeongdong in central Seoul, on Nov. 17. [YONHAP]

Central Seoul’s Myeongdong is bouncing back to its pre-Covid status of being the city’s hottest shopping district and tourism hub.

The once barren streets of Myeongdong are now crowded with people, both locals and foreigners, crisscrossing the alleyways of the neighborhood almost shoulder to shoulder amid the seasonal lights and decorations.

The delicious smells and plumes of steam from food trucks cajole shivering passersby, and above the bustle of the crowd, the ringing of Salvation Army bells pierce the crisp air.

According to the latest data by the Small Enterprise and Market Service, the average daily foot traffic in Myeongdong in August reached 115,441, closely approaching 129,862, the foot traffic recorded right before the Covid-19 outbreak in December 2019.

“It all feels like a Christmas miracle!” said Kim Jin-Su who runs a tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) and mayak gimbap (mini Korean-style seaweed rice rolls) food truck in Myeongdong.

Myeongdong was hit with one of the hardest blows by Covid-19 as it is a destination that, for about the past seven years, has depended almost entirely on foreign visitors.

When travel was restricted in early 2020, its streets were almost instantly emptied. Food trucks that used to line the streets late into the night barely opened and shops shuttered. According to the real estate platform square, the vacancy rate in Myeongdong in the third fiscal quarter of 2020 was 47.2 percent, the highest among major commercial districts in Seoul.

Empty buildings in Myeongdong, central Seoul, on Dec. 4 [YONHAP]
Empty buildings in Myeongdong, central Seoul, on Dec. 4 [YONHAP]

But as Covid-19 subsides and quarantine becomes a thing of the past, Myeongdong is regaining its previous vigor.

According to September data from the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, the total number of foreigners visiting Korea had quadrupled compared to the same period last year, from 89,800 to 337,638.

The most visited location by foreigners was Myeongdong, followed by Hongdae in Mapo District, western Seoul, and Gangnam District, southern Seoul.

But Myeongdong isn’t just attracting foreigners — it is also piquing the interest of young locals who are finding a new charm in the neighborhood.

It first drew attention last December when the Shinsegae Department Store in Myeongdong drew crowds of hundreds thanks to its Christmas-themed media facade.

Pandemic-restricted Koreans gathered outside the department store on Christmas Eve to see the gleaming Christmas lights, which took the form of some 1.4 million LED chips on the exterior walls of the store.  This year, the department store said that it has installed 3.5 million chips.

People gather to see Christmas-themed media art on the walls of Shinsaegae Department Store in Myeongdong, in Jung District, central Seoul, on Nov. 22.[YONHAP]
People gather to see Christmas-themed media art on the walls of Shinsaegae Department Store in Myeongdong, in Jung District, central Seoul, on Nov. 22. [YONHAP]

Among the younger generation, taking a photo in front of the flashy department exterior and then uploading it on social media became a popular trend. There are over 20,000 hashtags about Shinsaegae’s Christmas media art on Instagram.

This Christmas season, Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong has joined in on the fun with its own seasonal lights, embellishing its 100-meter-long wall with media art-themed “Christmas Dream Moments.”

The two department stores have employed some 50 security guards as well as installed fences to ensure the safety of everyone coming to visit the area.

Trendy new shops are filling the commercial district that is also attracting both locals and foreigners.

The space for Blue Bottle Coffee Company’s Myeongdong branch is currently under construction and set to officially open later this month.

Shoe brand Adidas is preparing to open a three-story, 2,500-square-meter flagship store in Myeongdong early next year.

The National Theater Company of Korea is staging one of its beloved shows, “Les Fourberies de Scapin” in Myeongdong Art Theater, through Dec. 25.

A famous comedy by French playwright Molière, it is about two people’s amorous intentions that are thwarted by two authoritarian fathers who have just returned from a trip and are determined to marry their sons to two strangers. The young men turn to the wily Scapin for help, placing their fate in his hands. English subtitles during the play are provided on Thursdays and Sundays.

Two hotels — Le Méridien Seoul Myeongdong and Moxy Seoul Myeongdong — opened last week.

Both are hotels under the Marriott brand and are located in the same building. Floors four through eight belong to Le Méridien and nine through 15 belong to Moxy. There are a total of 405 rooms, including facilities such as an indoor swimming pool and conference halls.

Moxy Seoul Myeongdong [MOXY SEOUL MYEONGDONG]
Moxy Seoul Myeongdong [MOXY SEOUL MYEONGDONG]

Over 60 percent of the rooms during the first weekend were booked even before officially opening.

“During the Covid-19 period, Myeongdong suffered greatly, but now, with more foreigners coming to the neighborhood, business is coming back,” said Nam Gi-duk, CEO of Marriott International’s Korea and Philippines hotels. “We are expecting explosive growth in the near future.”

BY LEE JIAN. [lee.jian@joongang.co.kr]