Issue 1, 2012. February-March

   

TBILISI: THE FUTURE SHOPPING MECCA OF THE CAUCASUS

City Hall has declared that Tbilisi will become the shopping destination for the region. While the idea has merit, retailers warn high costs and limited goods are serious obstacles to the mayor's initiative.

Maia Edilashvili

From Cartier on Rustaveli Avenue, to Mexx on Pekini Street and Mango on Chavchavadze Avenue, Tbilisi is a city bristling with brand names. But shopping in the capital often offers more style than substance: prices are astronomical compared to similar shops abroad, and poor selection means shoppers are limited in their choice of cuts, colors and styles.

But Tbilisi is harboring dreams of shopping grandeur. Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava is opening new malls, new shopping districts and even a new shopping festival to bolster the city's image as a one-stop destination for discerning shoppers.

"[O]ne of the key potentials for Tbilisi is turning it into the regional shopping center," Ugulava, said on December 9, as he opened the capital's first shopping festival.

By promoting the city as a shopping mecca, Tbilisi will create a new clientele for local shops and, more importantly, additional revenue.

Dea Machavariani, marketing director of Tbilisi Central, located in Vagzlis Moedani, said shopping festivals are good for business. But in order to recreate itself as a regional shopping destination, Tbilisi needs to do more, she stressed: it needs to meet "certain" standards like increased variety and brands.

"Until the number of brands grows, [it is] too early," she told Investor.ge. "The brand number is what matters most [now]." To attract more brands, the city is working on creating more shopping space, including the newly reconstructed Aghmashenebeli Avenue. In addition, new malls are opening in the city center and suburbs, the latest being the 78,592 square meter Tbilisi Mall, opened in Dighomi last year.

Authorities also expect a further140,000 square meters of shopping center space to be built over the next two or three years, adding to the current stock which ranges between 85,000 and 95,000 square meters - low by European standards.

City Hall is now promoting the new shopping district on Aghmashenebeli Avenue, an anticipated competitor for Pekini Street and Chavchavadze Avenue - the city's current shopping districts.

But the focus on creating new shopping space should not threaten Tbilisi's existing shopping districts, noted Arisi Bochoidze, head of the Tbilisi City Hall's Architecture Service.

Bochoidze commented that city officials are not planning to create a single shopping district; they want to create a shopping city. He pledged that opportunities will be equal for new stores, malls and parking spots - all urgently needed if the retail shopping industry is going to develop in Tbilisi.

"[W]e do not think that any particular neighborhood should develop [specifically] as a shopping area," Bochoidze said. "Tbilisi is a big city and development is planned for all areas."

Lela Sinjikashvili, head accountant for Accessorize shops in Tbilisi, agreed that the city's plans will bolster the retail industry in the capital if they can bring in foreign shoppers.

"Pekini Street has been considered as Tbilisi's number one shopping street for 10 years already, while Chavchavadze and Rustaveli Avenues have been considered [shopping districts] for five years," she said, adding Aghmashenebeli Street will become another shopping district soon.

"If the number of foreign visitors grows, all these streets will take on a new function as shopping destinations."