Century-old and modern shops in Korea defeated by years-long Covid-19 scourge

2021.12.28 11:14:36 | 2021.12.28 11:15:17

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Restaurants, craftsman houses, and shops of nearly a century-old history that have survived the war and various national turmoil are going extinct as the self-employed business bears the biggest hit from lockdowns and mitigations versus virus spread in South Korea.

At least three out of stores recognized for 100-year-old legacy by the state have closed their businesses as of September. Others are barely managing.

Cho Han-soon, owner of Yeonhee Photo Studio (formerly Yonsei Photo Studio), the oldest photo studio who has taken pictures of college students in the university district in Shincheon, northwest Seoul for 70 years, strives to hold onto the generations-old family business, but cannot know how long he can withstand as the universities in the neighborhood have been extending remote classes for two years.

Oh Se-woon, a craftsman who has been sustaining lacquerware inlaid with mother-of-pearl shop for 40 years, has been selling own properties after he used up loan cap to protect the business that has been ruined by the absence of tourists.

Modern shops are no better.

According to data released by Statistics Korea on Monday, the number of franchise outlets increased 9.5 percent year over year to 235,709 in 2020, but their combined revenue dropped 0.3 percent to 74.4 trillion won ($62.7 billion) in the same period. Considering the rise in the total store number, each outlet’s revenue plummeted 9 percent to 315.5 million won during the pandemic.

Restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops have suffered the most from the prolonged social distancing restrictions and reduced business hours to slow coronavirus infections with their combined store sales down 10 percent over the cited period. Annual sales of Korean restaurants plunged 18.7 percent from 2019 to 248.4 million won per store in 2020, and those of coffee shops and fried chicken outlets fell 14.7 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively, to below 200 million won per shop.

Pubs and bars also saw their annual sales down 15.9 percent per store, and convenience store down 11.9 percent.

While the net increase of franchise stores came at 20,000, the number of workers at such outlets dropped 5.2 percent on year to 802,501 last year, as self-employed owners cannot afford hires.

By Kim Jung-seok, Chun Kyung-woon, Jin Young-hwa, and Sookyung Seo

[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]