Hong Kong’s shoppers didn’t let tear gas or protests stop them in September

HONG KONG— Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement got its start on September 26, after students stormed the courtyard of a government complex, and got the attention of the world after police fired tear gas at demonstrators two days later. Since then, protesters have been entrenched in two high-rent retail districts, but their presence didn’t keeping shoppers from splurging, at least for the last few days of the month.

September’s retail sales figures, released today, were better than analysts expected, and represent the biggest year-over-year growth in nine months. Hong Kong’s retail sales have been soft for most of 2014, thanks to increased competition for mainland Chinese shoppers from other Asian cities and European capitals, and the Chinese government’s crackdown on lavish spending.

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Retail shoppers spent HK$37.6 billion ($4.8 billion) in September, thanks in part to new smartphone models (the iPhone 6 came out mid-month), improved local consumer sentiment and strong visitor arrivals, a government spokesman said.

While September’s sales are a positive for the economy, the true effect of the Occupy Central protests will probably be felt in October’s figures.

Hong Kong’s retail sales traditionally peak at in December, when the city’s malls become tourist destinations thanks to their elaborate Christmas displays.

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Many malls have been relatively unaffected by the Occupy Central protests, but vehicle and tram traffic was restricted for several weeks to a high-end mall called Pacific Place. (Shoppers could still access it through an underground subway stop.) The road in front of Pacific Place was cleared on October 14, making it accessible by bus and cars again. Above-ground transportation to Causeway Bay, another major shopping district, was also completely disrupted for days, and a road there remains partially closed.

Hong Kong’s Retail Management Association estimated earlier that the protests had trimmed retail sales by 15-50% during “Golden Week,” the national holiday during the first week of October. Still, tourism during that week actually increased from a year ago, the city’s tourism board said, despite the Chinese government’s ban on package tours to Hong Kong.

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