Sharjah merchants anxious for souk revamp to go ahead

Shop owners in Sharjah's biggest and oldest traditional souk are losing patience with authorities who promised to expand the facility.

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SHARJAH // Shop owners in Sharjah's biggest and oldest traditional souk are losing patience with authorities who promised to expand the facility in a bid to help struggling businesses. The municipality said last year that it had plans to add fast-food restaurants and a children's play area to transform the souk, one of Sharjah's major landmarks, into one of its biggest tourist hubs.

The souk, constructed in 1978 on the Khalid lagoon along the Buhairah Corncihe, is one of the most noteworthy architectural sites in the Emirates. It has some 600 shops, including 80 stores on its staircases. An official said that while there had been some delays in the project, it was still on track. "Central Market is our architectural masterpiece," said the official, who asked not to be named.

"We want to restore its attractiveness to the old days and a project to expand it has already been approved by the municipality council." While the official said work on the project would begin before the end of this year, he would not say when the project would be completed. "There are still a couple of things we are finishing with the contractors before we come up with full details," he said. The sooner they start the better for shop owners such as Rasha Abdel Aziz, who has a garment store in the souk. She said that business was so poor that she could not meet her monthly expenses.

"I bought this shop last year because I heard the municipality was going to build a children's playground," she said. "I believed families would bring their children here to play as they shop with us, but up to now nothing has happened." She believed that residents were fond of the traditional souq but said they had to adapt to changing trends in the retail sector. Almost all shopping malls now have play areas and, with Sharjah being a mostly residential community, families want to shop where their children can play, she said.

Zubair Ahmed, another shop owner, said the souk should offer services including banking, money exchange, restaurants and cinemas. He also said that being in the centre of the city was not helping the souk attract shoppers and that many shops had already closed because their owners could not make a profit. Soweid Ahmed, a Syrian who sells shoes in the market, said the souk had been all but forgotten by municipal authorities.

"The building is not well maintained and its toilets are often dirty," he said. "Who do you expect to come to such a place in this modern times of shining malls? What upsets me most is that we have to pay maintenance fee every year but we never get the worth of this money."