Covid takes a toll on all types of indoor businesses
Two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing rules are taking a heavy toll on indoor establishments as people avoid crowded places.
Noraebang (singing rooms), PC bang (internet cafés) and reading rooms – partitioned cubicles where students study together – took a particularly hard hit.
PC bang, noraebang and reading rooms are all enclosed and crowded, which makes them more of a risk in a pandemic. Customers of noraebang, especially, almost always come in groups.
According to a National Tax Service report published Feb. 3, the number of noraebang in Korea dropped to 27,779 as of last November, down 9.5 percent from 30,421 in 2019, or pre-pandemic.
A total of 969 or 10.5 percent of PC bang and 4.2 percent of reading rooms went out of business during the same period.
“I didn’t shut down the business completely, but haven’t opened up for a while,” said a 57-year-old small business owner who runs a noraebang in Mapo District, western Seoul. “Some 15 percent of the noraebang in this area, Hapjeong-dong, went out of business.”
Even before Covid-19, business wasn't great, he said. Now it's dismal.
“Most customers used to visit a noraebang after having a drink or two at other restaurants. Covid-19 dealt a finishing blow to an already faltering business that was hit by the anti-graft law and a shift in drinking culture.”
The anti-graft law, which took effect in 2016, limits the amount of money that can be spent in drinking establishments and restaurants by companies.
The number of motels in Korea also shrank 7.5 percent.
Reading rooms are being replaced by study cafes, which have comparatively open spaces.
Small bars and pubs, common nightlife establishments in Korea, are closing down at an even faster pace. Small-sized bars decreased by 33.8 percent over the past couple of years, while pubs, which mainly serve craft beer, declined 25 percent.
Meanwhile, restaurants with private rooms have seen a popularity bump.
Japanese restaurants, where dining spaces are often private, increased by 11 percent since 2019, from 18,165 to 20,170, while Korean restaurants expanded by 4.5 percent.
Some analysts pointed out that the declines cannot be solely attributed to the pandemic.
“Younger people born between the early 1980s and 2000s tend to value personal life over work life, leading a cultural shift that impacted the pub industry,” said Lee Byoung-hoon, a sociology professor at Chung-Ang University.
“The social distancing rules imposed by the government accelerated the decline.”
The National Tax Service report also found that declines had started before the pandemic.
PC bang declined by 3.1 percent in November 2019, compared to the same month a year earlier. Noraebang, reading rooms and motels have been shrinking since 2018, though the pace quickened after the pandemic broke out.
BY JEONG JIN-HO [email@example.com]