Debates on curfews, travel bans and accommodation are unlikely to lift the mood of entrepreneurs in city centers. Although neither restaurants nor shops in Germany have yet proved to be sources of infection other than special hotspots, the general uncertainty in many shops is causing even fewer customers than before.
The fact that politicians like to regulate stricter than the courts consider permissible ultimately makes it difficult for traders. According to the retail association HDE, up to 50,000 stores could have disappeared from the market by the end of the crisis. Who likes to go shopping when the chancellor calls for people to stay home?
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Federal Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) invited industry representatives on Tuesday to offer prospects to entrepreneurs in inner cities. Because the fact that inner cities are deserted has not only been a problem since the corona crisis, but at least since the advent of online commerce.
But it shouldn’t stay that way. “Experience spaces” with culture and gastronomy should be created, Altmaier said after the meeting. In addition, digitization should help small businesses.
What is behind the flowery phrases?
“Our inner cities are an important part of our social coexistence and the location of our business,” said Altmaier. “It should become people’s favorite places again.” Over the next few months, the workshops will gather ideas on “Inner Cities and Retail Digitization,” “Creative New Uses of Empty Stores,” and “Development of District Concepts.”
What is to be hidden behind this collection of flowery phrases can be guessed from the so-called examples of good practice compiled by the Ministry of Economy. There is a click-and-collect service from Mönchengladbach, where you can try on clothes ordered online in a central location in the city center, take them with you or send them directly back. Customers can choose this location when ordering.
South Tyrol is also mentioned, where data are used to forecast visitor flows. There is also a lot of talk about urban marketing and the modernization of urban centers. But it all costs money. HDE has therefore long called for a € 100 million package to improve the digitization of stationary retail.
“These are not subsidies”
Due to the corona crisis, this is particularly urgent. “These are not subsidies,” said HDE CEO Stefan Genth after meeting with Altmaier. “It is about helping companies that have not gotten into trouble as a result of the Corona crisis without their own fault and now no longer have the funds to invest in their future.”
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Medium-sized companies in particular depend on such a digitization fund. It is therefore also important for the federal government to expand its bridging aid for small and medium-sized enterprises by 2021.
Altmaier indicated his agreement, but it had not yet been decided in the cabinet. The Minister of Economy announced on Sunday that bridging aid would be bridged so that, for example, restorers would receive support in the management of outdoor areas even in winter.
Sunday shopping before Christmas?
The Minister of Economy also stood by the traders on another point: at the Sunday openings. He suggested it after closing in March and April. “For me, a single regulation for the Christmas business is still what I want to strive for,” he said, announcing that he would propose it again in the federal cabinet.
He spoke from the heart of Tina Müller, CEO of Douglas, who also attended the meeting. “In this way, the flow of visitors would be even better,” she said. Müller drew an even bigger picture to illustrate how shopping in city centers can maintain their importance in the online age.
“You will have to digitize all the goods from the city center on one platform,” she suggested. Of course, you need to train retailers to convince everyone, but then you can combine the benefits of online and offline shopping this way. “Stationary retail is not just about selling products,” she said. “It’s experience, service, advice, meetings.”
Commercial rent in city centers is very high
A few weeks ago, the German Association of Cities brought another leverage that made city centers more attractive to smaller retailers: commercial rents. As there is still no ceiling, the best places can often only be afforded by large corporations.
In the interest of a good mix, the Association of Cities advocates a land fund. This would make it easier for municipalities to temporarily acquire real estate in the city’s central locations. Overall, money is currently lacking. “To specifically strengthen inner cities, we also need more funding for urban development from federal and state governments than the current 790 million euros,” said Helmut Dedy, executive director of the German Association of Cities Tagesspiegel. “We need more people living and working in city centers again, not just shopping there.”
After meeting with Altmaier, Genth joined the mixing goal and immediately took over the duties of the next Minister of the Union: “Federal Minister of Construction Horst Seehofer is on the train here.”