Franco Savastano: The guardian of Bahnhofstrasse

08 Feb 2024
Franco Savastano is president of Vereinigung Zürcher Bahnhofstrasse. This organisation’s goal is to keep Zurich’s most renowned shopping street attractive for both shoppers and retailers. We asked Savastano, who is also CEO of the Jelmoli department store, about the street’s main assets and the challenges it faces. He also reveals his favourite restaurants and shops in the city.

What do you think is the biggest asset of Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s renowned shopping street?
Bahnhofstrasse offers huge diversity. And there isn’t just luxury, but rather something for every budget. There are even a couple of restaurants and cafés with outdoor seating directly on the street. I know locals complain that there are too many watch boutiques here, but like it or not, this is a very important industry for Switzerland. And of course, the location leading from the main station to beautiful Lake Zurich at the top end makes it truly unique.

You are president of Vereinigung Zürcher Bahnhofstrasse, an association that represents the retailers and service companies on Bahnhofstrasse. What does this organisation do?
The main purpose of the association is to keep Bahnhofstrasse an attractive shopping and business street. Our main project is organising the starry Christmas sky on Bahnhofstrasse every year. Besides Christmas, we organise the flagging for the Sechseläuten spring festival and collaborate with the city on security and cleanliness issues.

How has Bahnhofstrasse changed in the past 15 years?
Well, it’s become much more international. More successful international brands have opened their own stores here. Some say this has caused Bahnhofstrasse to lose its uniqueness and atmosphere.

Do you think the loss of local businesses is a problem for its reputation?
Well, there are still plenty of local businesses that do an excellent job. And from the point of view of a shopper, I think it doesn’t matter so much if a shop or brand is local. What’s more important is the quality and the reputation. Those international brands are successful, so customers seek them out. They certainly aren’t bad for Bahnhofstrasse.

Does the association have any influence on who can open a shop on Bahnhofstrasse?
No, we don’t have any influence at all. We just try to keep the street attractive for businesses and customers and try to convince the businesses to contribute to the budget of the association. I have to say though, this doesn’t become any easier when dealing with the international brands.

What will be the biggest challenges in the future?
Definitely digitalisation. How can we make customers keep coming to the shops in this digital age? The shops have to try to create experiences that can’t be matched online. At Jelmoli, for example, we do lots of events like cooking lessons and wine tastings. Shops will still be places for encounters, but these encounters are changing. Secondly, Zurich, per se, has to be kept attractive. London, Milan, Paris are all just a one or two hour flight away, after all.

If you had one political wish on how to improve conditions for Bahnhofstrasse, what would that be?
Well, flexible opening hours is an important subject. On Sundays, all shops have to remain closed in Zurich. I only speak for Jelmoli here, but we would appreciate it if we would be allowed to open from time to time on Sundays. For example, on a couple of Sundays in summer when lots of tourists are here. They don’t understand why everything is closed and think there’s a strike or a protest going on. But politically, it’s a sensitive subject. Maybe one day....

Let’s talk about Zurich. What makes this city special? Its diversity! For example gastronomy - you can find almost everything imaginable, and all of good quality. But also regarding culture and events, there’s so much going on. Another fact I like about Zurich is its multiculturalism. People from so many different origins live peacefully together here. That’s fascinating.

And what annoys you about Zurich? I wish people would be a little bit more relaxed. We’re doing so well here and everything works perfectly, yet everyone is always in such a rush. You missed your train? Relax, the next one will probably arrive in just a couple of minutes.

Do you like to eat out? What are your favourite restaurants? Yes, I love to dine out. One of my favourite ‘Italians’ is Da Angela, where I feel like I’m in Milan. The food is really great there. I also like Casa Ferlin, which has a more distinguished atmosphere. For pizza I love to go to Taverne da Angelo and for Swiss food my favourite is Zeughauskeller. I also like Asian food. Ly’s Asia at Prime Tower does a great job.

What is your favourite place in Zurich?
To relax, I love to walk up to the Uetliberg with my wife, where you’re given a great view of the city and the lake. It doesn’t get much better than that.

And where do you go shopping?
Well, obviously Jelmoli is my favourite. I can get almost everything I need there from awesome food like the cheese presented in our humidor to suits and shirts. But, of course, I do a lot of scouting too. I like, for example, the Im Viadukt shopping street, a really innovative concept.


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