Design Anthology spoke with Vicky Chen who oversaw the historic renovation of Tainan’s Hayashi Department Store, which dates from 1932 during the period of Japanese occupation. Today, this art deco beauty has reopened, resplendent in its original period detail (including its then-state-of-the-art elevator!) and a product array and cultural calendar to complement it.
Design Anthology: My first visited to Hayashi was by pure happenstance, but I remember walking into the store and immediately being struck by how special every detail of it was and feeling that it was a very inspired project. Who drove the vision behind the restoration of the Hayashi Department Store?
Vicky Chen: Thank you, I’m so happy to hear you say that. The original intent of the project was to give back to society as we are a Tainan company, so it was a project born out of passion.
Was the local government instrumental as well? How did you work together on this project?
We took over the project after the government renovated the building, and we focused on the interiors and integration with society. But they are so thankful for our dedication to the project that every time we have an event the mayor will come to show support.
We wanted to build Hayashi to become the most famous attraction in Tainan. In a way, we are like a tourist envoy as we go around promoting the project and we must answer the question, ‘What is Tainan style?’ We want to discover different ways to explore and to answer that question. So when you come for the first time and even though it may be your first time in Tainan, you will think ‘Wow, this is Tainan!’ through the products, which together tell a story.
Thus, we work like a team with the government to promote the project because its success is good for Tainan.
But you get the sense from visiting Hayashi that this was a project that didn’t make sense economically. How do you justify it?
When we started the project, we never thought about profits. As a Tainan company, we wanted to give back to society, so we started the project anyway and were very devoted to this idea. To our surprise, in the end, it is profitable.
We hope that you’ll go back home and tell people your story of this discovery and how it made you feel!
What was your favourite part of the project?
What I love best is the people that we got to know through the project. We have an old staff member from the original days of Hayashi, for example, who is 93 years old now and he’s like our spokesman. They are like walking history, and in Hayashi you really feel like you’re living with a part of that history. The humans are the most important factor of Hayashi. In order of importance, it’s humans first, then events, the building and then the products.
How do you develop your special products? Do you collaborate with craftspeople and artists?
There are a lot of traditional crafts industries in Tainan, like pottery for example. And the old craftspeople are hidden and we have to find them. So when we started, we thought about how we could modify old crafts to appeal to the modern market. It takes a lot of time to collaborate with the older generation craftspeople before both sides are happy with the final creation.
Do you plan to do a similar project elsewhere in Taiwan?
Well, Hayashi is not so easily copied, so it wouldn’t be possible to extend the brand. No matter where we go next, however, we’ll continue to combine the local characteristics with the business to develop something very special and unique.
For example, we currently are developing another project in the former Magistrate’s residence, also from the era of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. The building is 150 years old and we have exhibition space, special products, a traditional restaurant and very special gardens.