x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Material damage at the souq

Al Ain textiles souq is a well-established centre for coverings of every texture and hue, but the advent of shopping malls is threatening to unravel the traditional way of buying fabrics with which to make clothes.

A solitary man walks by Abid Textiles, one of the oldest fabric stores on the Old Jawazaad road in Al Ain, epitomising another day of slow trade at the souq.
A solitary man walks by Abid Textiles, one of the oldest fabric stores on the Old Jawazaad road in Al Ain, epitomising another day of slow trade at the souq.

AL AIN // Just off Al Ain's Khalifa Street, the textile stores on Old Jawazat Road - better known as Old Passport Road - grow quieter after every Eid.

The mere click of heels along the concrete floor past the dozen stores scattered on either side of the street draws some shopkeepers outside, trying to lure any potential customer into their store. Others, though, have lost hope and gaze silently, forlornly at the passers-by.

"I don't stand outside," says Rajender Jessani, a 55-year-old Indian shopkeeper at Al Najha Textiles. "Why should I? If they want to come, they will come,"

After seeing the malls gradually rob him of custom, he says he has lost hope. For his family's sake, he still comes from home early each morning and evening, to wait for his naseeb [fate].

"Many locals come during Eid," he says, "but now it is not Eid so no one is here. It is all naseeb."

"Fewer people are coming. The few locals who do come make problems, sometimes using bad words and asking for too low a price. But the number of locals in Al Ain is increasing - so we don't know what the problem is."

After working at the same narrow shop for the past quarter of a century, he says he has little hope left of pursuing his childhood dreams. "I wanted to go back home and open my own business, but now I am old. I like my country a lot, of course I miss it."

Next door, Deepak Lakhani, also from India, has been the store manager at Star Textiles for 13 years. He, too, says sales are suffering.

"People know about our stores, but now we are seeing fewer locals and fewer Omanis because of the shopping malls," he says. "Of course it is better to buy here. You can buy silk, cotton, nylon, lace, anything, in all colours, and make what you like."

A women, an Emirati in her 50s, steps in to the store, and is immediately surrounded by salesmen keen for a commission.

"Where is Golden Thread?" she asks. Defeated, they direct her down the road, beyond the mosque.

At Lamasat Textiles, the 26-year-old Syrian salesman is fed up. He's only here, he says, until he finds a better job.

"All the old staff have left. No one wants to stay here, and if we get the chance we will all go," he said. "I want to get another job to start a family, to get married."

His colleague, a 32-year-old Egyptian, is similarly downbeat. "If you need textile go to Golden Thread," he says. "They have everything."

Despite the shopkeepers' pessimism, the car parks are packed at night with men waiting patiently for their daughters, sisters and wives.

"My wife comes here every few weeks," says HA, a local customer. "My wife doesn't haggle much, but prices are always up.

"She comes here with her daughters to try to teach them, like her mum taught her, to buy and make clothes. Today's fashion is no good, especially for the new kids."

For Roaa Saeed, a 17-year-old Egyptian, the offerings here are hardly promising. "My mum says because we wear hijab, we should tailor-make our clothes because the clothes in stores are too tight and too transparent," she says. "But I want to wear like my friends. I don't like it here."

It is all a far cry from when these shops opened. Amit Raj, a 26-year-old Indian who manages Al Dhahery Textiles, tells of the times before he was born when his mother started up their shop.

"We were the first store to open on this road 32 years ago," says Amit Raj, the Indian manager of Al Dhahery Textiles.

Not that the 26-year-old was there back then. The store was his mother's.

"The shops on the other side were photocopy and print stores, that is why it is called Passport Road.

"Not much has changed. It is not about fewer customers.

"The same customers are there, but now more shops are open - all textile - so business is not so good."

osalem@thenational.ae