Thursday, March 18, 2010
Israel has been building malls at a fast clip the last twenty years. Malls as they come in replaced the small shops along small town main streets and big city neighborhood shopping street. In Tel Aviv and surrounding cities there are many malls (more than 10.) From small ones like Givatay'im to large ones like Ramat Aviv and Hertzeliya's seven stars. Malls are clean and shiny with chain stores from women clothes to gifts to cafes to book stores. Israel's chain retailers have grown in size and sophistication as malls spread across the country. Chain retailers and mall builders have a symbiotic relationship. Malls need shops, retailers need space and shoppers. But small specialty shops with interesting collection of goods do not fit into this mall expansion scenario. This makes for a shift of shopping habits, to some young shoppers malls are what they want but not everyone is happy with the change. There are no dry goods shops with great smells from nuts to herbs and spices. There are no small "school" supplies shops from notebooks and pens to school accessories you would not believe (polar and exponential graph paper, finger puppets and test prep books) where kids can touch and wonder in small dark corners. Vegetable and fruit stands, fish and meat shops, cloth boutiques and bakeries run by mom and pop on a small street simply can not afford the rents and will probably not have enough foot traffic to make a profit in a mall. Small take home food shops and falaffel, hummus, sadwich and shawarma stands are certainly not part of the mall scene. But these little small outlets are still useful in daily life, so mall managers went out to try and get them into their spaces.
In an effort to give mall shoppers a complete buying experience, all kind of add-on bazaars take place on Fridays and school vacations. Past articles here covered the Dizengoff center food days on Thursdays and Fridays. At first vendor stands were all pushed into the basement of the western building, until so many people tried to get in there it was just a mess. Someone realized that they can be lining up the hallways up and down two floors. Givatay'im mall recently added crafts and gift stands in all the walkways, first as preparation for holiday gift shopppers. Fridays there is a food fair as well. In Kfar Saba there is a big outdoor mall with all kind of tables. The city is surrounded by small villages with craftsmen of all kind, this is one place to see their work. I don't think Israelis are any different than other western cultures. Shopping is something that varies with location and the item bought. I am sure women all around the world appreciate clean and organized shoe and clothe shops. Everyone likes large fitting rooms and helpful informed sales staff. Dresses are great to buy in malls but not spices and chicken livers. A spice and herb shop that is too clean in a mall just doesn't seem right. And with all the smells it will "contaminate" the pristine environment malls try to portray. The sellers in these small shops tell stories of grandfathers who ran shops in Iran and India, grinding everything by hand and even pounding the harder spices with a mortar and pestle all night. These old dynasties also serve apothecary role and still serve clientele who uses herbs for medicinal purposes. Just tell them what ails you and they will gather the right combination of herbs and spices. This kind of shopping going back to bazaars in eastern countries does not go hand in hand with a modern mall. In Givatay'im mall they have one spice table on Fridays, an extension of a shop somewhere. Small shop owners and mall managers finally understand how to work together and make shoppers happy.