Popularity of Itis shopping mall is waning
Itis - formerly known as Itäkeskus - has been advertising itself as the largest shopping centre in the Nordic countries, but its visitor numbers have collapsed over the past few years
Helsinki’s Itäkeskus shopping centre in the neighbourhood of Vartiokylä in the eastern part of Helsinki appears to be in some disarray.
The mall is undergoing a substantial renovation, during which the passageways within the building have become more difficult.
In recent years, the manager of the shopping centre has been changed repeatedly. Moreover, the name of the mall has been changed from Itäkeskus to Itis.
Many stores are advertising closing-down sales in their display windows, while several shops have already disappeared.
And so have the customers.
Itis has been advertising itself as the largest shopping centre in the Nordic region. However, in the past few years its visitor throughput numbers have declined by the millions.
In 2011, the number of visitors to Itis was 18.7 million, which is more than three million fewer than the 22 million shoppers in 2007.
According to statistics received by Helsingin Sanomat, the decline has continued in the current year: the number of visitors in June was about 80,000 lower than the corresponding figure in June 2011.
In terms of pure visitor numbers, Itis is nowhere near the largest shopping centre even in Finland, let alone in the Nordic countries.
This fact is known even to Kirsi Feirikki, the new Shopping Centre Manager of Itis, who took up her position in May.
”We have lost customers to other shopping centres, particularly families with children who go shopping by car”, she says.
According to Manager Feirikki, particularly the Jumbo shopping mall in Vantaa has lured customers away from Itis.
The mall is trying to win back lost consumers by intense modernisation efforts: the mall will become about 11,000 square metres larger by 2014.
The new shopping centre will focus for example on fashion. In addition to families with children, it will target young adults.
Along with the modernisation programme, many old entrepreneurs’ leasehold contracts have been terminated and they will have to move out of the shopping mall.
For example Seppo Palomäki, who has been running a jewellery shop at Itis since 1999, was given notice of termination of his lease.
”We did not fit the profile of the new shopping centre”, he says heavily.
The lease contract of Markku Jurvala’s optician's shop was also terminated. He regrets the way the termination was made.
”They gave notice of the eviction over the phone. Of course the mall has to be modernised, but this was not a professional way to give notice”, Jurvala notes.
Jurvala believes furthermore that the modernisation scheme Itis is pushing through is headed in quite the wrong direction.
”It feels silly if large chains and design products are brought here from abroad, as there is no purchasing power out here in the east”, Jurvala says.
Shopping Centre Manager Feirikki admits that Itis customers include many who earn less than average, but she regards the mixed clientele as one of the strengths of the mall.
”Some of our customers are clearly in the lower income bracket, but we are also visited by upper-bracket income groups. We also have more immigrant visitors than average”, Feirikki reports.
Jewellery vendor Palomäki believes that with its modernisation programme Itis is taking a stab at modifying its clientele so that the number of immigrants declines.
”Many foreign vendors who have been here for 20 years were among those forced to leave. This is how Itis is trying to get rid of immigrants”, Palomäki claims.
Feirikki does not accept this allegation.
”We also wish to keep our present customers”, she insists.
According to Feirikki, the leases of 60 enterprises have been checked in connection with the modernisation programme. Some of them have been relocated elsewhere in the shopping centre.
”This is not a question of getting rid of small entrepreneurs. We are looking at the total concept. We will also have kiosk-type promotional counters and temporary points of sale which will give small businesses an opportunity to show off their products”, Feirikki explains.
The renovation at Itis was launched at the end of last year. The aim is to have it completed in 2014.
Is Itis still the largest shopping centre in the Nordic countries?
For a long time, Itis has been advertising itself as the largest shopping centre in the Nordic countries.
Depending on indicators, many other Finnish malls have now outgunned Itäkeskus, which was opened in 1984.
”On which grounds is Itis the largest mall, Shopping Centre Manager Feirikki?
”When we are looking at the commercial indicators, or primarily visitors and sales”, Feirikki says.
But when it comes to visitor numbers, at least the Kamppi Center in downtown Helsinki (with 34 million visitors) and the Sello shopping mall in Espoo’s Leppävaara appear to have outperformed Itis last year, which means that at least that indicator no longer ranks Itis as the largest mall - even in Finland.
”It is true that these figures have been declining, but we believe that we will manage to turn them back upwards”, Feirikki insists.
”But is Itis the largest after all? Is your slogan still viable?
”Well, you mean we should now reconsider our slogan or what? But there are other indicators, too, aren’t there? For example the rentable floor-area, the number of outlets, and similar criteria”, Feirikki notes.
Is there some single factor that would indicate that Itis is clearly the largest mall in the Nordic countries?
”It is the number of outlets. If we look at this in its entirety, it is extremely large”, Feirikki says.
But is Itis the largest shopping centre in the Nordic countries - or is it not?
”In my opinion it is, if we are looking at the number of outlets and the rentable area. Nevertheless, there is reason to consider this matter in our communications going forward”, Feirikki concludes.
Itis, formerly Itäkeskus