Jeddah souks face myriad problems

By MD HUMAIDAN

Published: May 5, 2012 02:14 Updated: May 5, 2012 02:14

Jeddah: There are scores of souks (markets) and commercial centers of various sizes and types in Jeddah.

These markets continue to serve as the economic lifeline of the city, which is regarded as the commercial capital of the Kingdom and the gateway to the two holiest mosques since the period of King Abdul Aziz, founder of modern Saudi Arabia.

In the past, there were only four famous souks located within the perimeters of the walled city, which still contains signs of traditional life with old social and economic features. They are Souk Al-Alawi, Souk Al-Bado (Bedouins), Souk Gabel and Souk Al-Nada, located in Jeddah’s historic district. Commercial activities at these souks were restricted to the sale of consumer goods such as foodstuff, dresses, handicrafts, utensils, meat and fish.

According to an e-guide published by the Jeddah Municipality, there are about 100 souks and commercial centers in the city. However, on a tour of various souks across the city, Arab News noticed some souks are not included in the municipality’s guide. Apart from this, there were several negative elements as far as many of these souks were concerned. Some of these souks are designed to serve only foreigners living in the Kingdom. Most shops in these souks display all consumer goods required by expats as well as Haj and Umrah pilgrims coming from abroad. Workers of these shops also belong to various foreign countries.

There are souks exclusively for the sale of certain types of consumer products, such as Souk Al-Janoubiya for electrical appliances, Souk Ghurab for electrical appliances and medical instruments, Souk Al-Jamia and Souk Bab Makkah for dates, and the meat and vegetable market in Bab Makkah. There are some other famous souks, including Al-Ittihad Souk in Kilo 2 on old Makkah Road for household appliances, office stationary and carpets, and Mahmoud Saeed Souk near the Bicycle Roundabout for furniture.

During the tour, Arab News saw many souks were unplanned featuring poor infrastructure facilities and utility services, narrow alleys, unhygienic streets and surroundings, small stalls erected in front of big shops disrupting the movement of shoppers and vehicles, and shops flooded with duplicate and cheap quality products. Another striking feature was that prices of the same goods vary from market to market.

Commenting on the poor public utility services, including the toilets, Muhammad Al-Harbi, member of the committee for utility services and environment at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), told Arab News this problem is not restricted to the souks alone but rather a common problem at most public places in the city, such as parks, gardens, and public squares. “In my opinion, the only solution to this problem is privatization of public utility facilities following the example of other GCC states. Nominal charges are levied on those using these facilities, similar to paid parking areas,” he said.

Referring to the unplanned souks and stalls, Al-Harbi said the municipality would decide whether to renew licenses granted to these stalls. “We have to work on drafting a new regulation that would not be restricted to souks and stalls but also entire shops and gasoline stations operating along public roads and districts. It is irrational to allow three petrol pumps to operate within half a kilometer,” he said.

Commenting on the matter, the owner of a perfume shop in Bab Makkah Souk said: “We were extremely happy when the announcement about developing the historic area was made and were eagerly watching developments in this regard. We hope that implementation of this development project that will cover our area will result in removing stalls erected in front of our shops,” he said. The Saudi trader also drew attention to the poor hygienic conditions and the lingering problem of sewage running in front of their shops.

On a tour of several souks, such as Bawadi Souk in north east Jeddah, Al-Ahdal Souk and Al-Sawareeq Haraj (secondhand goods souk) in south Jeddah, as well as the Prince Miteb Souk, Arab News saw stalls were selling duplicate, counterfeit and cheap quality products imported mainly from China and many South East Asian countries. These products also included those manufactured or assembled locally without a proper license.

Abdullah Al-Qahtani, former member of the committee to combat commercial fraud at JCCI, said an unhealthy competition among traders to import these cheap goods and lack of strict monitoring by the authorities concerned have contributed tremendously to aggravating this problem. He also called on consumers to stay away from buying such products that are harmful to them in many respects.

Speaking to Arab News, a number of shop owners and workers at famous souks said Haj and Umrah pilgrims come first among their shoppers. Several pilgrims who are traders and shop owners have established a rapport with their counterparts in Jeddah. These pilgrims, especially those from the neighboring countries, collect bulk orders of some goods from the Jeddah souks. This also contributed substantially in witnessing the hectic activity of the reexport of goods from the Jeddah Islamic Port, which is close to the city’s famous old souks. Several sea cargo establishments that have set up their cargo warehouses in the area between the port and Jeddah Trident Hotel are major beneficiaries of this. Sources at these souks expected increased business during the current Umrah season, given the growing number of pilgrims every year. According to the latest official statistical report obtained by Arab News from the Ministry of Haj, the number of Umrah pilgrims is expected increase 17 percent in 2012 compared to last year.

In the meantime, owners of several shops at major commercial centers and malls in Jeddah said they are unable to attract a large number of customers. Muhammad Nasser, who works for one of these shops, told Arab News that even though there is a huge flow of people to these malls and commercial centers, most of them do not make any purchases. “Most of the people frequenting these centers come for recreational purposes, so the major beneficiaries are amusement parks, coffee shops and restaurants. These people come to make purchases during festivals and peak seasons during the year,” he added.

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