ABU DHABI // It is just three months since Central Market’s souq opened on the site of its predecessor, and word is spreading.
For now customers are trickling in, and only shops on the ground floor are occupied. But more will open by the end of next month and, foreseeably, more customers will come.
With hints of the historic souq that existed before it, the new souq presents shoppers with intricate wooden latticework, expansive indoor spaces and an andalusian-style fountain.
Most important for many, like Fahad Mansour, it offers something different in Abu Dhabi.
“We are bored of malls and want somewhere quiet to relax after work,” he said.
“I remember how I used to run up and down here in the old souq as a child. Now I am 30 and working, so this really is more convenient for me – air-conditioned, comfortable and a nice change to malls.”
He sits in the Shakespeare & Co cafe with a friend, Khalid Mansour, who wears an orange T-shirt and a baseball cap. “I like this place, the old and new combined together, that is how we need to keep things in the country,” Mr Mansour says.
By the glass lifts, a security guard does his best to reach out to customers and, perhaps, drum up business.
“Purchase any item from the souq so you don’t have to pay for the time you stay, ok?” he calls to passersby.
At the New Zealand Natural shop next door, Abdullah al Jafre, from Abu Dhabi, sits eating ice cream.
“I only came for this ice cream,” he says. “This is the only branch in Abu Dhabi and my friends told me it has the best ice cream, so I came here straight after work.”
Umm Tallal, from Yemen, is buying fruit at Unifrutti. “I like the fruit here,” she says. “They take it to my house. In big supermarkets a hundred people hold the fruits, here there is no one, that is why it is nice – it is new and clean and not crowded at all.”
Hind Akel and her mother, Hanan Doulabes, were split on their first impression.
“I like the Arabic feel to it,” says Hind. “The sunset-like lighting gives it a nice touch. The wooden blocks that kind of look like the outer structure of old buildings are pretty.”
Her mother, Hanan Doulabes, finds it a touch sombre. “The lights are too dim,” she observes. “The floor is very dark too.”
They walk into Gallery Make Up.
“This is our first branch – we started three weeks ago,” says Lanie Sarrano, the saleswoman. “We got most of our stuff from the old souq. We bought some cosmetics from there – at good prices.”
Shaggy’s Mr Boombastic plays over the shop’s speakers.
Further along the corridor, the scent of spices mixes with the smell of fresh paint and wood. “We opened here because we need tourists,” says Mohamed Ibrahim, the 24-year-old Iranian who runs the herbs and spices store. “My mum is local and my dad is from Iran. All our products come from Iran.”
He grabs a handful of small dried flowers. “This is Muhammadi flower – you can put it in tea for a nice taste, or in water in a room to make the room smell nice.” He smiles. “I can give you a good price.”
Fahad Mansour walks past, confused. “Mohamed, where is Shakespeare?” he asks. Mr Ibrahim directs him past the fountain in the middle of the souq to the cafe. The restaurant’s sofas have been packed since lunchtime.
Later, Mr Mansour, confesses this is one of the first times he has been here, and he had no idea what the stallholder’s name was: “We call anybody here we don’t know Mohamed. It was a lucky guess.”
Back at the glass elevators, the security guard continues on his mission. “No madam, go purchase something so you don’t pay for your parking ticket,” he implores.