BEIRUT: Shopping malls may be spread across Lebanon from Sidon to Tripoli, but contrary to what many might think, the Lebanese market remains hungry for more, according to the manager of the country’s biggest shopping center as it prepares for the grand opening.
The economic downturn and political instability did not affect the $350 million project by UAE-based real estate developer Majid Al-Futtaim, senior mall manager Sleiman Mallat told The Daily Star.
Set to open its doors early in April, Beirut City Centre is expected to do great business in spite of the tough economic conditions, Mallat said from his offices near the megastructure, where scores of workers are putting together the final touches.
Centrally located between Beirut and its suburbs in the Hazmieh district, the mall will feature 200 retailers, over 40 international restaurants and cafes and 16 food outlets.
The mall has been fully rented ahead of its opening, Mallat said, adding that 50 percent of the shopping center would be for new brands to the Lebanese market. It will be anchored by the biggest Carrefour hypermarket in the Middle East.
“The market is completely different from what people believe. We do not have too many malls. In fact, many Lebanese areas remain untapped and you can easily build a very successful mall,” Mallat said.
“But of course you have to know precisely where to build and develop your shopping center,” he added.
Asked why malls are becoming popular, Mallat said they are emerging as a primary “family destination.”
“People are searching more about the experience, about the lifestyle. Somewhere where you can spend three or four hours without noticing,” he said.
The location, Malat explains, was chosen following extensive market studies covering incomes and needs of people in accessible vicinities.
A primary trading area was defined as people within a 5 minute drive of the mall, a secondary one as people within 15 minutes drive of the mall and a third trading area included customers who would travel from a distance to visit the new mall.
The merchandising mix inside the shopping center, Mallat adds, will be based on the study.
“It is not that we want a certain retailer to be here. We chose the shop that suits our trading areas based on the numbers in the market study,” he said.
“It is a very scientific approach,” he added, explaining the mall will offer everything from low-end brands to luxury products.
Given the bright prospects for the mall market, the company will not just complete the City Centre mall, but will also soon tap new locations.
A mall of similar size near Majid Al-Futtaim’s Waterfront City in Dbayeh is in the planning phase, Mallat said, adding that full details will be announced at a later time.
To extend the mall’s reach, the company recruited a consultancy firm to study road access to the mall. The study was followed by a road infrastructure investment of $3 million, in coordination with the local municipality.
“We are not making a short-term investment. We know for a fact that when the situation improves, it will pay off very well,” he said.