A Place for Older Koreans: Memories PlusSociety
Tapgol Park: A “Giant Senior Center”?
Jongno has been at the center of Korean politics, economy, culture, and education for over four centuries, dating back to the Joseon Dynasty’s relocation of the capital to Seoul. In the second half of the twentieth century, the Korean government’s development strategy for the capital saw the area south of the Han River (Gangnam) rapidly transformed into a new metropolitan area. Meanwhile, Jongno and the rest of the Gangbuk district north of the river took on new importance as repositories of traditional Seoul cityscapes and architecture. As South Korea’s population ages rapidly, Jongno’s role as the traditional heart of the capital has made it a popular destination for Seoul’s older residents.
The most popular meeting place for Jongno’s older visitors is Tapgol Park. Tapgol Park was the first modern park in South Korea, and remains a well-known historical landmark today. However, for some time the park and surrounding areas have also been known as a gathering place for the homeless and older people with nowhere else to go—not least because of the nearby flophouse district that, while it still stood, was said to be the most crowded part of South Korea. Food kitchens and other support services for these groups supported by private organizations have brought even more such visitors to the park, with the result that some refer to the park today as a “giant senior center.”
Memories Plus: A Place for Older Koreans
The shopping areas around Tapgol Park are home to many restaurants, cafes, clothing stores, and beauty salons aimed at an older clientele. Some of these businesses are part of the so-called poverty industry, but governmental and private support allows many other establishments to focus on providing spaces for older customers to relax, rather than seeking profit. These businesses offer goods and services at reduced prices to encourage interaction between older customers. Memories Plus is one such business.
Memories Plus was originally a small cafeteria inside Hollywood Classic, a movie theater aimed at older patrons. The business struck out on its own in September 2013, opening in a new location not far from Tapgol Park. With financial support offered by a private bank as part of its social contribution activities, Memories Plus serves its elderly clientele affordable food, tea, and coffee.
Memories Plus also plays a valuable role in the neighborhood economy by providing employment to older residents—all of its kitchen and floor staff are drawn from this group. The interior is decorated to recall the 1970s and 1980s, and the DJ spinning popular songs from that period also contributes to the establishment’s popularity. More than just a restaurant, Memories Plus is a space where older patrons find it easy to mingle and form new connections.
I visited Memories Plus at just past two in the afternoon to find it full of older customers. Some were enjoying refreshments, but not a few others were just listening to the music, engaged in conversation, or simply passing the time as they pleased. Memories Plus certainly appears to have earned the trust of its clientele as a place they can relax and be themselves.
(Originally written in Japanese. Banner photo: A DJ plays nostalgic songs for atmosphere at Memories Plus. Photos courtesy of Kim Sung-won.)