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"Mobile stores" increasing in depopulated areas

Wed, 09/18/2013 - 10:11am
The Associated Press

TOKYO, Sept. 18 (Kyodo) — An increasing number of companies are opening "mobile stores" amid the successive closure of retail shops in depopulated areas.

Mobile stores are big buses and trucks that carry merchandise and visit places where shopping is difficult for residents.

Major cosmetics maker Pola Inc. has two 12-meter-long buses selling some 480 items including ceremonial robes, jewelry goods and furs. Each "Moving Salon Bus" has a rug-covered floor, dressing room and bathroom, and conducts business in parking lots.

Pola began the service in fall 2011 and has sent the buses to all parts of Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa, including remote islands. Attracting consumers as "mobile boutiques," the service now chalks up average daily sales of 1.5 million yen.

While regional department stores have been successively closed due to local economic slowdowns, popular interest in beauty and fashion remains strong, a spokesperson for Pola said. "We launched the service so that people in difficult shopping environments can choose merchandise they like."

Major supermarket and convenience store chains are also promoting mobile stores.

Ito-Yokado Co. began its service in the Tama New Town large residential complex in Tama, Tokyo, in late July, sending a 4-ton truck full of daily necessities and fresh food, such as vegetables, meat and milk, at 2 p.m. on weekdays.

The company has accumulated know-how from the service that it has extended to towns in Nagano Prefecture and the city of Sapporo in Hokkaido.

Started amid the rapidly aging population in the area and the closure of the nearest supermarket a few years ago, forcing residents to take buses for shopping, the service is "very helpful," said a 76-year-old woman in the town.

Ito-Yokado workers involved in the service often talk to customers and help them get in and out of the truck. Sadanori Katagiri, manager of the Ito-Yokado Minami Osawa store in Hachioji, Tokyo, which offers the mobile store service in Tama, expects customers to also "enjoy person-to-person relations (with his staff members)."

Good Care Co., a nursing-care service provider in Ebina, Kanagawa Prefecture, operates a "Mobile Beauty Shop" truck for elderly people in nursing homes and hospitalized patients who cannot readily visit beauty parlors.

The truck has two shampoo basins with hot showers, driers and other equipment for hair-care services like perming and dyeing in its 15-square-meter interior. It visits some 60 nursing homes and hospitals on a regular basis in the prefecture.

"Customers enjoy the service because they can feel refreshed," said Noriaki Mizuseki, president of Good Care, explaining the company tries to offer the service in a short time taking into consideration people's health conditions.

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