div>(Hama, Syria) The Syrian crisis has taken its toll on people’s life in Hama socially and economically, despite the regime’s attempts to limit its damages. This has urged the local residents to seek alternative solutions to answer their needs.
“Houses became a great investment for their owners: three adjacent stores can be built on a 100-square-meter ground floor.”
The Ibn Rushd Street is one of the prettiest main streets in the city. Clothing shops are spread all along it on both sides and it is known for the as-Sayyida ʿAisha High School which dates back to the era of the French Mandate for Syria. The as-Sultan and the al-Ghazi ancient mosques are respectively located at the beginning and the end of the street.
Over the past few years, shoppers took the habit of visiting the markets in Hama only in the mornings, since shop owners had to start closing permanently their stores before night time because of the security situation in late 2011.
Salim (1), a clothing shop owner in Ibn Rushd Street, said: “Many stores were robbed after their owners fled shootings between the regime forces and the rebels, and random bullets broke most of the shops’ windows.”
Store owners faced some losses which were only worsened by the stagnating merchandise. Therefore, many of them sought alternatives, namely opening stores or shops within the buildings in residential neighbourhoods, such as the al-Baʿth neighbourhood in the west of the city.
“I moved here (to the al-Baʿth neighbourhood) after business deteriorated in Ibn Rushd, once the markets started closing early in the evening. Now the citizens prefer the stores in the neighbourhoods as it is easier to move there at night in the current security situation. Even the residents of nearby neighbourhoods come to al-Baʿth since it has become an actual market,” said ʿOmar, a tradesman who moved his shop in 2013.
The al-Baʿth neighbourhood is one of the relatively new suburbs which was built 15 years ago, and most of its main street has been recently turned into a market with clothing shops and restaurants, in addition to vegetable and houseware sellers.
Houses became a great investment for their owners: three adjacent stores can be built on a 100-square-meter ground floor.
“The crisis led many people to turn their houses into stores. They lease them in exchange for a monthly rental of up to 20,000 SYP (approximately 53 USD),” al-Baʿth resident Abu Maʿadh told Good Morning Syria.
These new stores seem to be relatively popular among the locals.
“What truly bothers us is that the merchants spread their products all over the sidewalks, hindering passersby. However, these stores have spared the neighbourhood residents the journey to the main market… You can find anything you want in this market,” concluded Abu Maʿadh.
With regards to the opening of such shops that violate the terms of residential buildings, many laws were issued to penalise their use for commercial purposes without official authorisation. According to the provisions of decree No. 59 of 2008, which is related to the municipalities’ administrative units and was amended by decree No. 40 of 2012, the unauthorised buildings are to be demolished. This same decree refers the violators to justice and forces them to undo the breach. A prison sentence and a fine may also be imposed.
Nonetheless, amidst the chaos in the country, no one stands in the way of violators, and in the event that someone lodges a complaint, officials can be bribed to prevent the enforcement of the law.
Good Morning Syria met with Ibrahim, an economist and a high-ranking bank employee who shed light on the positive outcomes of the new markets, underlining the “ability of both traders and consumers to adapt economically and continue the economic activities, in addition to the effort to answer the consumers’ needs and ensure the flow of incomes.”
As for the negative aspects, Ibrahim added that “turning residential neighbourhoods into popular markets led to the distortion of the (buildings’) architecture and a decreased performance of the main markets.”
The authorities in Hama made several attempts to keep the main markets busy in the first months after the army had entered the city to quell the protests in August 2011.
“Soldiers used to walk around the market and ask us to stay open until late at night, explaining that there was nothing to be afraid of since the terrorist groups had been defeated,” said Abu Muhammad, a fabric seller in the ad-Dibaghah commercial street.
“However, the authorities soon ended this, since the improvised bombs that targeted army tanks roaming the streets at night kept many of the residents from visiting the markets late in the day. Moreover, the attacks led by the rebels against military checkpoints in the city resulted in the definite closure of the markets at night,” Abu Muhammad added.
Nonetheless, some consider that the stagnation of the main markets is merely a phase. “The markets will soon return to normal once the reasons that forced them to close early or suspend their activities are gone. In the meantime, the stores in the neighbourhoods will be reduced to service-providing stores,” economist Ibrahim said.