RIYADH: Rodolfo Estimo Jr.
Published — Friday 18 January 2013
Last update 18 January 2013 10:50 am
The commercial district of Batha used to be the popular weekend destination for many expatriates in the Kingdom’s capital city in the 1980s, up to about the year 2000. They would visit the area to buy their daily needs, eat in their favorite restaurants, window shop or just meet friends to forget their longing for home.
Many also went there to get the latest deals on stereo equipment, refrigerators, washing machines and other products.
“But after the year 2000, the number of visitors started to decline. One main reason is the fact that big, air-conditioned malls started to pop up like mushrooms in various parts of the city,” said Pete A. Cruz, 49, a barber at the Pinoy Barber Shop in Batha.
Another reason was the Saudization program of the government. “Their jobs, such as secretarial positions, were categorized for Saudi nationals,” he said.
“Most expats I see coming to Batha nowadays are the so-called blue collar workers. They include office and construction workers, restaurant waiters and office employees, among others,” he added.
He said with a regretful smile that the barbershops used to be very busy on weekends. Customers used to queue up to have their hair cut. “Sometimes some came on weekdays because we were so busy during weekends,” said Cruz, who hails from Apalit town in Pampanga, north of Manila.
With fewer customers, “our income also declined. We are lucky that there are still customers who pay extra for our services.”
Shaikh, a Pakistani fish dealer, made the same observation, saying that vendors often ordered several kilograms of various kinds of fish.
“It was good business back then. But this is no longer the case. They complain that many of their regular customers have disappeared. Their earnings have also dwindled so they haggle over lesser prices for certain fish,” he said.
He expressed the hope that “things will change for the better.”
Jannette Arenque, a teacher at a multinational school, said that she and her better half used to visit Batha on weekends for their daily needs.
“However, we stopped going so often because of the distance. Besides, supermarkets and fish markets are now available in Suleimania district which is near Malaz where we live,” she said.
“It’s more convenient to go to the malls which are air-conditioned. It’s a good place to spend quality time with the children,” she said.
“There are also supermarkets in these malls where we can buy our daily needs,” said Arenque who hails from Lopez town in Quezon province, south of Manila.
Every weekend they visit a mall to find out what they can buy from the shops while their kids, aged 10 and 5 can play, “which they cannot do in Batha.”
Eric P. Asi, a senior electrical engineer at Nardeen Lighting, said that he has visited almost all the malls in the city with his family, including the big ones such as Faisalia and Kingdom malls along Olayah Road and Riyadh Gallery along King Fahd Road.
“These malls are really big and spacious and shops have almost everything for personal and family needs. There are instances when we run into old friends in these malls,” he said.
He has also visited other malls “just for a different experience and for anything that we could buy for less.” These include Sahara, Galleria, Khurais, Panorama, Danube, Al-Othaim along Al-Kharj Road, Euromarche, and Hyperpanda along King Fahd Road.
“Of course we still visit the malls that existed when we arrived in the Kingdom more than 10 years ago. These include the Akariya along Sitteen Street and Akariya Mall along Olayah Road.
“For a long time, the Akariya Mall along Olayah Road used to be a favorite hang-out for expats of various nationalities,” he said.
Abdullatif Omran, a Jordanian who works at a daily newspaper, added that he was a regular Batha visitor with his wife and children on weekends. However, he now spends “quality time with his family at the malls.”
“We go to malls which are new and modern either to buy something or merely to hang out. It’s convenient being there,” he said. “These malls compare very well in convenience with those in other countries,” he added. “Malls have become part and parcel of modern life.”
Syed Iqbal Ahmed, a 55-year-old Pakistani who is an advertising executive at an Arabic daily, said that he also spends time with his family at the different malls dotting Riyadh’s skyline.
“Kingdom Tower is one of our favorites, aside from the fact that it’s near our house. We go there as a family either to buy something or to merely pass the time.
We go there to bond as a family,” he said. “Malls are among the amenities of modern life.”
He said he still goes to Batha if he can’t find a product in the malls.