JBEIL, Lebanon: The first thing to note, and the first thing every shopkeeper in the area will tell you, is that Jbeil’s new Commercial Souks are not in fact new – the shopping area is old, all that’s contemporary is the facade.
Until recently the stores in question, located along the street running down the western side of the old city, greeted visitors with a scaffold visage and were perhaps easily bypassed en route to the pretty, cobbled pedestrian zone between them and the sea.
Today, the scaffolding has been lowered, unveiling a collaborative restoration project undertaken by the Jbeil Municipality and Byblos Bank, at a cost, Jbeil Mayor Ziad Hawat has told the media, of $3 million fronted by the latter.
Inaugurated just last week, the revamped sector stretches along the street from its financial benefactor’s premises on one side for about 100 meters and reaches almost double that distance on the other side, with an interruption for a still not functioning water feature.
But unlike Beirut’s made-over Downtown area, a string of European and American chains has not descended on Jbeil’s renovated street. Instead, behind the redone stonework and beneath a new wooden awning that grants delicious respite from the summer sun, most of the stores are just as they were before the initiative – independent women’s clothing outfits, a convenience store and a sweet shop on the corner.
“It’s not new; it’s old,” the proprietor of a butcher shop who introduces himself as Fawzi tells The Daily Star when questioned if this is indeed the “new Commercial Souks.”
Others, perched behind counters in old-fashioned jeweler, clothing and fabric shops reiterate this remark; They’ve been trading from this street for years.
Asked on a quiet Monday if they like the street’s new look, all shrug with a certain indifference.
But while the change may only be skin deep, it does extend the quaint old-world feel of the ancient city just a little further back from the sea, enhancing its already considerable charm still further.