In the 70s the world was still fine. On television, Edmund Sackbauer knocked out beefy whelks. Bruno Kreisky shortened the working hours. “A Glock ?? n” ran in a loop. Papa drove to the tobacconist’s in the VW Golf. Mama bought schnitzel at the market. The son’s flared trousers in the boutique around the corner. The daughter the tape recorder in the electronics store. The Internet wasn’t invented yet. Global warming was of no interest to anyone.
The times are over. Today people shop online. Traditional Viennese shops have been closing in rows – and not just since the outbreak of the corona pandemic. Whole streets are deserted and sold to the brim. Your public life comes to a standstill. Expenses become garage entrances. Business premises to bicycle storage rooms. Libraries to nail salons. The change in trade will also change the city. Go blind on the ground floor. Streets lose their flair. The city its character.
There are also bright spots. A few shopping streets defy the trend. Landstraßer Hauptstrasse in the 3rd district is such a street. She got stuck in the 70s. Flared trousers and hair dryer have disappeared. Otherwise the street – with a few retouching – could still serve as a backdrop for the “Kottan”. There is a knife sharpener here as well as a shoemaker, a coffee roaster, a library, a shop for gloves, one for hats, one for leather goods, one for comics. Fashion boutiques, tobacconists, bakers, jewelers anyway. There is hardly a street in Vienna where the retail structure is more fragmented. There is hardly any other street where the density of specialist shops is higher. There are hardly any streets where there are more family businesses. Besieged by shopping malls and threatened by online trade, Landstraßer Hauptstraße defies the zeitgeist. Still. Because you too are gradually running out of air.
Not a tourist magnet
From the Stubentor, Landstraßer Hauptstraße makes its way out of town to Schlachthausgasse – past magnificent apartment buildings from the Wilhelminian era. Especially on its first kilometer – between Wien Mitte and Apostelgasse – it is a classic shopping street. It is not a tourist magnet like Mariahilfer Strasse or Kärtner Strasse with their large chains and expensive luxury boutiques. It is not in any travel guide. Teenagers from the federal states do not come to the shopping tour in the third. It is also not run down like Thaliastraße with its cell phone shops and discounts. Landstraßer Hauptstrasse has remained authentic. And consistent. While the other commercial streets in the city gradually fell away, she had significantly fewer problems. Today it is – after Mariahilfer Strasse and the city center – the third largest shopping street in the city.
According to the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, around 400 companies from 200 different industries are registered on Landstraßer Hauptstrasse on 82,000 square meters of business space. Clothing stores, grocery stores and restaurants are predominant on the ground floors. Before Corona came around 14,000 customers per day. 4.5 percent of the restaurants were empty. Not a very high rate. Six percent is the Viennese average. The displays seldom remained orphaned for a long time. In a district comparison, the 3rd district ranks fourth among those looking for a location – on par with the city center. Ideal conditions for a busy district street. Ideal conditions for a liveable city.
Shopping streets are dying
But roads like Landstraßer Hauptstrasse have become rare. “100 years ago there were 100 shopping streets in Vienna,” says Roman Schwarzenecker, authorized signatory at the consulting firm Lage und Markt. The city was known for its shopping boulevards. This is mainly due to the radial shape of Vienna. “The many arterial roads that lead away from the center were a good breeding ground for business.” They took care of the Grätzl. Such a development would be unlikely in a chessboard-like planned city. But today Vienna can only dream of 100 shopping streets. The yield is comparatively poor.
For Schwarzenecker there are no more than a handful. “Vienna has five, with squinted eyes maybe twelve real shopping streets,” he says. According to the definition of location and market, a street needs at least 4,000 square meters of retail space to be considered a shopping street. The shops must run seamlessly through the ground floor zone. 75 percent have to offer selected goods – things that do not meet daily needs and are absolutely essential for survival. “After all, it’s about shopping, not supplies.” Strictly speaking, only Mariahilfer Strasse plus side streets, the pedestrian zone in the city center, Favoritenstrasse and Meidlinger Hauptstrasse meet the requirements in Vienna.
Surrounded by shopping malls
And the Landstraßer Hauptstrasse. Nobody believed that she of all people would be among the survivors. Three shopping centers were pressed onto her eye. First the Galeria at the end of the street, then The Mall near Wien Mitte and, since 2017, the Post am Rochus right in the heart of the street – on Rochusmarkt. For a long time, shopping malls were seen as the certain death of neighboring, fragmented infrastructure. Traditional traders would have no chance against the dumping prices of the chain stores. The high density of different shops in a compact space would make any street stand out. But the commercial street Landstrasser Hauptstrasse still works. The dead live longer.
The success of the Landstraßer Hauptstrasse – or Landstrasse, as the Landstraßer says – has many reasons. The street train has excellent connections to the Wien Mitte train station. U-Bahn, Bim, Bus and ÖBB trains run here. It is one of the busiest train stations in the country. In 2019 Wiener Linien counted 170,000 passengers a day, ÖBB 66,000. The central part of the country road in particular benefits from them.
But the secret behind their durability lies elsewhere – in the residents of the street themselves. They provide the majority of the customers of the commercial street. The population structure of the central Grätzl of the 3rd district is above average. Well-heeled middle class. Around 17,800 people live around Landstraßer Hauptstrasse. Most are between 45 and 65 years old. There are few students, but many academics. Classic middle class with high purchasing power. The grandma who has been buying her transition jacket in the same boutique for 50 years. The grandpa who swears by pants from the men’s outfitter Teller. And on wallets from the leather goods dealer Weidner. He buys the newspaper every day in the same tobacco shop. Then he drinks a Veltliner at Rochusmarkt.
“I have a lot of customers like that,” says Ms. Castka. She sells gloves on 25 square meters. Models made of lambskin, deer and water pig leather lie in the wooden drawers of the ceiling-high built-in closet. Castka is the fourth generation to run the business. It was founded by the Bahr handschuhmacher family in 1903. The shop still bears the name today. “We are an institution in Vienna,” says Castka. How much longer, she doesn’t know. With the virus came three lockdowns. The last two in winter, the peak season for gloves. “I’ve lost the foundation of the fiscal year,” says Castka. “The savings have been used up.”
But even before the pandemic, sales at the Bahr glove shop fell. “20 years ago there were four of us in the shop and people queued at the door.” In the past few years, fewer and fewer came. The winters were getting warmer. The cheaper, inferior products of the fashion chains face increasingly tough competition. Some of their neighbors – especially fashion houses – have closed in recent years. “We are still an island of the blessed, but the deforestation does not stop at us,” says Castka.
50 percent chain stores
Although there are still many traditional traders on Landstraßer Hauptstraße, many of them also close. Their shops are mainly being replaced by restaurants. They supply thousands of workers in the office district around Wien Mitte. But chain stores are also moving in. Libro, Hofer, Deichmann, Billa, DM, Penny Markt, Starbucks. You can find them all here. According to the location and market, the chains take up almost half of the entire commercial space on the street. The areas of the three shopping centers – in which there are almost only chain stores – are included here. The mix of small shops and large mass suppliers is not the problem per se. The Grätzl can take that. There is a lack of commitment of the discounters for the street itself. International chains naturally don’t care much about the regional structure of a city. Your interest ends in the sliding door. The small traders, on the other hand, formed associations years ago. “Together we are investing in Christmas lighting, for example,” says Klaus Brandhofer, chairman of the Landstraßer merchants. “It’s supposed to get the people out of the mall back onto the streets.”
Even in times of the pandemic, the fairy lights hang between the blocks. Cars rush through under poinsettias. Because Landstraßer Hauptstrasse is not just a commercial street. It is one of the most important traffic axes through the district. On some days the number of cars is enormous. An average of 20,000 cars pass the area between Invalidenstrasse and Rochusgasse. 50 kilometers per hour are allowed over the length of the entire street. Even in this regard, the country road got stuck in the 70s. The street is fully geared towards individual motorized traffic. There is relatively little space left for pedestrians. Cyclists have to be content with a narrow strip. The fine dust pollution is high.
Encounter zone canceled
A meeting zone based on the model of Mariahilfer Strasse has often been discussed. Above all, the central area of the street around Rochusmarkt should be calmed down. Before the Vienna election in autumn, they brought the Greens back into conversation. With trams instead of buses, more trees and space for pedestrians. But a broadcast of the “Wiener Zeitung” shows: The majority of business people are against it. They fear for customers who come by car.
And so the country road got stuck a bit in the 1970s. With all the advantages and disadvantages. With the old family businesses. With the bars, fashion houses and bakers. With the noise of the engines, the horn, the exhaust fumes.
Only the bell-bottoms have disappeared. Kreisky and Mundl too.