Fez Gets Its First Multi-Story Shopping Mall

Fez locals have flooded the newly opened Borj Fez shopping mall on Route Taza since the opening on Saturday. 

For many Fez residents, the three story high Borj Fez will be their first taste of the mega-malls ubiquitous in the United States, Europe, parts of the Middle East and Asia. Filled with more than 70 stores, including major franchises such as Carrefour, Virgin, Camaeiu and Nespresso, Borj Fez offers a very different shopping experience to the small individual shops of the Ville Nouvelle, and the souqs of the Medina.

 Excitement among Fassis is evident, with frequent queues to get into the shopping centre and many younger people posting their status on Facebook as being at Borj Fez, with photographs of themselves outside it. And, as a reader reminded us, "the thing that has been causing the most excitement and hilarity - the first escalators in Fes! Watching people try and step on them for the first time is very entertaining."

It's a sign of the growing Moroccan middle class that American and European owned franchises judge they will be able to generate sufficient turn-over, when the cost of a 200 dirham shirt or a 135 dirham packet of designer tea is more than the daily wage of many of Moroccans.

Samira, 17, from Oued Fez, says she and her friends are "excited to be able to see new things that are available. Even if we will have to save (up) our money to buy them."

 The shopping as entertainment experience is enhanced by the children's Fun Park on the third level, along with the food court, which has a Burger King and a Pizza Hut.

The first escalator in Fez!
As a consumer, the wealth of choice offered by stores like Carrefour is desirable - the honey section alone is half an aisle long, and the fish section offers a remarkable variety. However, in a broader economic sense is the question of how it will affect the small businesses of the Medina, Fez Jdid and the Ville Nouvelle.

The experience in Western cities is that small family owned stores simply can't compete with the buying power of the franchises; their customer base is reduced and there are forced closures. All over the Western world, the corner shop has become an endangered, if not extinct, species.

 Of more specific concern is the effect on the artisans of the Medina. The main source of customers for artisan made products are Moroccans. Given a finite disposible income, will the Moroccan middle classes be tempted to buy Chinese made homewares and imitation tagines (they have small ones in Carrefour) at a cheaper price, rather than those that are locally made?

 A wealth of white goods is on special at the entrance to Carrefour - everything from sandwich toasters, to juicers, to irons; and the relatively low prices will help to make such conveniences affordable to a broader group of shoppers.

However, the sight of the large number of inexpensive Chinese motorbikes on sale will make many Medina residents cringe. In recent years the Medina has suffered an influx of motorbikes, which often pay scant regard to pedestrians, donkeys and mules in the narrow alleys, and have also been used for purse snatching. Although banned in the World Heritage listed Medina, such restrictions are rarely enforced, and it would be a pity if the pedestrian experience of the Fez Medina became as unpleasant as that of the Marrakech Medina. 

While the consumer choices offered by Borj Fez are certainly welcome, frequently such "progress" comes at a cost.

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