All About Saudi / The Shops!

Pilgrims Throng Downtown Jeddah for Shopping

As salaamu ‘alaikum……shopping here is an adventure of its own. Jeddah already has crazy traffic, however it is total madness during the Hajj & ‘Umrah rush.

 Pilgrims Throng Downtown Jeddah for Shopping

JEDDAH, 28 December 2007 — Markets in the Kingdom, especially in the Western Province cities of Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah, tend to see a surge in shoppers after the Haj, with Jeddah’s downtown Balad district especially crowded with pilgrims.

Shops in the Balad area, catering to the throngs of pilgrims with their heads freshly shaved, do not close until well after midnight. Businessmen and shopowners can be seen busy making the most of the situation before the last group of pilgrims leaves the Kingdom on Jan. 18.

The scene in the downtown area is like that of an international conference sans translators. Everyone is trying to buy and sell using simple English or Arabic.

For Jeddah residents this is also the time to buy from pilgrims, who are selling products brought from their home countries.

Aisha, an African overstayer who lives in Jeddah, sells African clothing. “This is a perfect time for me to make money. My whole family is working with me and we do not take time off. Pilgrims are here on a temporary basis and we must make sure that we get the best out of it,” she said.

Pilgrims tend to buy many goods to take back home as souvenirs and gifts, though most of the goods are actually available in their home countries.

Muhammad Al-Asali, owner of the Mahmoud Saeed shop in the Balad area, said that lots of customers come to buy huge quantities of perfumes to resell when they return home. “Pilgrims from Chad and Nigeria tend to buy international branded perfumes, while Egyptians and Tunisians tend to buy perfumes with a local fragrance. Saudis, however, tend to buy different hairstyle materials. The sales increase at this time of the year by 45 percent,” he added.

Across the street, Ahmad Atif sells local products, including Arabic gum, henna cards and incense. “Most buyers right now are pilgrims from all over the world. They buy a lot for themselves and their relatives,” he said.

Denying that sellers increase prices, Atif said: “Some pilgrims are good at bargaining and most of the time buy at the price they want to pay.”

Saif Al-Amri, a pilgrim from Oman, said he performed Haj this year for the eighth time. “I am here to buy gifts for friends and family. What makes shopping here so unique is that I get to see products from all over the world that other pilgrims bring to sell. I can buy African products and Russian products here,” he said.

Ahmad Al-Abbas, owner of a shop selling beads and prayer rugs, said his business is thriving. “People come from different countries including Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Indonesia, and even from Europe,” he said, adding that he imports products from across the world to meet the increase in demand.

Abdul Mugni Ibrahim, who sells prayer beads, said that SR100 million worth of beads are sold after Haj. He added that more than 10 million prayer beads each costing only SR3 are sold during the Haj season alone.

Meanwhile, ladies accessories shops looked empty. Ahmad Khamis, a salesman at a ladies accessories shop in Al-Khaskia, said: “Pilgrims prefer to buy cloth and cheap items. They go to markets in the downtown area and close to Bab Sharif. They don’t buy accessories or bags that are expensive.”

Malali and Hadia, two Canadian pilgrims of Afghan origin, said that shopping in Jeddah was great and that in spite of their short stay in the city, they would shop and visit the Corniche to see the sun setting.

For many street-sellers the post-Haj period is the best time to make money. Street-sellers in the Balad area come from different counties. Some are expatriates living in the Kingdom, while others are Haj pilgrims selling goods to make some extra cash. Expatriates tend to sell toys and gifts items.

Julia, a Russian pilgrim, has reserved a corner for herself at the central area to sell simple items at cheap prices. “I came here from Makkah after finishing my Haj. People are buying from me and this is good,” she said.

Khadija, a Somali expatriate living in the Kingdom, sells henna and prayer chadors. Sitting in a shaded area, Khadija said: “I am poor and have children. Selling helps me take care of them. I only sell after the Haj season.”

A woman from Senegal was busy selling colorful fabric to African women. She had also arrived in Jeddah having performed Haj.

According textiles shop owner Ahmad Ibrahim, fabric is a popular line that sells well. “Many pilgrims from different nationalities, including Arabs, Russians and Africans, buy from me,” he said, adding that the business is profitable depending on the location of the shop, its size and the variety of material on offer. “For us it is going great,” he said.

Sulaiman, a handbag seller, said that lots of Makkah residents buy from him to resell in Makkah. “Some pilgrims come and buy handbags to sell them in their home countries. Others come to buy gifts for their relatives,” he said.

Iman, a Sudanese pilgrim, expressed dissatisfaction at her Haj mission, which she said has not given her time to properly explore Jeddah and shop. Quddus Abdul Salam, an Indian pilgrim, said he has taken out time just to come to Jeddah to shop. “We’re briefly stopping here and will be heading for Madinah soon. I’ll buy everything from here except for the praying rugs and dates, which I’ll buy from Madinah. I’ve put aside around SR3,000 for gifts,” he said.

At a large five-riyal shops, pilgrims could be seen coming and leaving with huge bags filled with cheap products. Jamal Abdul Fatah, an Egyptian pilgrim, was busy inside the shop looking for different products, with a shopping list in his hand. “I’m buying these items as my relatives asked me to buy them for them. I’m also buying other stuff for my friends,” said Abdul Fatah.

A pilgrim from Dar Es Salam said that he and his wife were in Jeddah for two days to shop before leaving for Makkah. “We’ve also bought other stuff from Makkah and Madinah,” he said.

Ahmad Ibrahim, supervisor at a Sony shop in the downtown area, said that pilgrims come to buy different types of electric products. “They don’t buy huge amounts of goods, just a few items for personal use or for gifts,” he said.

People could also be seen clustering at money exchanges to change foreign currencies into Saudi riyals. In spite of the international increase in the price of gold, many pilgrims are still keen to buy gold. According to Abu Talal, a salesman at Al-Sailani Gold Shop, lots of pilgrims are buying gold and that their tastes differ according to their nationalities. “We make good profit at this time of the year. This helps us cover our overheads and pay workers,” he said.

“People shouldn’t think that prices rise depending on the season. Rather, gold prices are linked to the international markets. We open at 8:30 a.m. in the morning and stay open till 1 a.m. in the morning,” he said. “We don’t want to miss this season. Especially since sales increase by 80 percent,” he added.

According to Asharq Al-Awsat, pilgrims are estimated to spend SR800 million on gold and SR8 billion on gifts annually.

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