Dollars-or-yen stores hope to draw Yokota shoppers
August 31, 2010
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Japanese retailers just outside the main gate here are now accepting dollars to boost business with the American military community, which has been reluctant to shop off-base with an exchange rate hovering at a 15-year low.
Most of the 36 businesses participating in the “Base Side Street” campaign, which began Saturday, are on Route 16 alongside Yokota in Fussa, a suburb of Tokyo. They display yellow placards with an “OK” sign and dollar symbol.
Several shop owners said Monday evening that they hoped the dual-currency strategy would generate business with American shoppers but that it was still too early to determine if it was working. Prices are still in yen, and the conversion to dollars takes place at the cash register.
“It encourages [Americans] to buy things,” said Michael Addai, who owns Mike Dee!, a hip-hop apparel store. “We can give a better exchange rate than the base sometimes, too.”
Monday, for example, Mike Dee! and most of the other dollar-friendly shops offered 85 yen to the dollar, two yen more than the conversion rate at the base’s Community Bank, where the exchange rate generally stays slightly above the national average. Other shop owners talked about creating an “American-friendly” atmosphere by signing on with the campaign.
Foreign shops that accept dollars are not uncommon around large overseas military installations.
Paying in dollars “gives you a better idea of what you’re spending,” said Air Force Maj. Dwayne Rolniak, who was shopping along Route 16 on Monday and is working temporarily at Yokota.
“And it’s just convenient,” said Rolniak, who is stationed at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, where he said many businesses have been accepting dollars for years.
What effect, if any, the new “Base Side Street” campaign will have on Yokota’s on-base retailers has yet to be determined, said George Ricker, general manager of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service at the base.
Shopkeepers said they hope to appear more “friendly to Americans” by accepting dollars, but Ricker contended that the base exchange “will always have the advantage” in that regard.
“Being at the [Yokota exchange] feels like you’re shopping in the States,” he said.