The mall phenomenon does not provide “added value” to northern Syria’s economy

Azaz Mall, northwest of Aleppo - December 21, 2023 (Dayan Junpaz)

Azaz Mall, northwest of Aleppo - December 21, 2023 (Dayan Junpaz)


Enab Baladi – Razam al-Sawadi

Commercial markets (malls) in northwest Syria have been active, where the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) and the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) are in control, establishing themselves as a destination for providing the population’s necessities.

The presence of shopping malls does not reflect a “good” economic situation in an area filled with displacement camps, inhabited by 4.5 million people, including 3.7 million suffering from food insecurity and one million people in camps out of a total of 2.9 million displaced persons, according to the latest United Nations data.

Opinions and perspectives differ regarding the feasibility of the existence of these malls and the extent of people’s interest in purchasing from them, especially with high unemployment rates and the limited purchasing power of the population.

Other opinions see the opening of such malls as an economic revival for the region and a source of livelihood for many people.

Amid the differing opinions, shop owners themselves face challenges to survive, given the low turnout and the deteriorating economic situation of the residents, as well as the spread of poverty.

Mini malls

The “mall,” as globally known, is a shopping center or commercial complex that includes shops, restaurants, and various entertainment options, in addition to parking spaces.

The naming of “mall” by the inhabitants of northwestern Syria varies, as some of them apply this term to large multilevel commercial complexes with wide spaces, while others use it for large stores with specific sections (not spacious).

Mini malls consist of a single or a maximum of two floors and do not contain a variety of shops inside, but rather have sections displaying products with three or five categories (clothing, perfumes, children’s toys), but do not have the specifications of the globally recognized shopping mall.

Notable among these malls are Idlib Shopping Complex, al-Qahwati Mall, and Rital Mall, distributed in different areas of the Idlib governorate, while in northern Aleppo, there are the Family Mall and al-Khatib Mall.

Ahmad Niaa, a university student who used to work in one of the small malls in the city of Azaz, told Enab Baladi that the mall where he worked was popular among the residents because the stores offer promotions, discounts, and events that attract people and encourage them to make purchases, so it is rare for them to come just to wander around.

He added that the prices were not expensive and were suitable for the residents of the area, and the expensive products are mostly well-known branded items.

On the other hand, Thuraya al-Sheikh, a resident of the city of Azaz, mentioned that the prices of goods in the malls are higher compared to regular markets, and sometimes they are double the price. She does not know the reason behind the significant difference in prices between shopping malls and regular markets, stating that the products are sometimes the same, but the prices are different.

Al-Sheikh mentioned her experience when she bought shoes from a mall for 250 Turkish liras and saw the same pair at the market for 150 liras.

Idlib malls

Over the past two years, malls have become active in northern Syria, especially in cities belonging to Idlib, where they are concentrated in what is known as the “Mall Street” in the cities of al-Dana and Sarmin.

The al-Hamra Mall is one of the largest and most famous commercial centers in the city of al-Dana, with five floors hosting stores that provide various products and services, such as restaurants, household and electrical appliances, technology, clothing, and furnishings, in addition to various events organized by the mall’s management, the latest of which is the first annual festival that began on December 7 of the current year.

The Royal Mall in Sarmin also ranks high in terms of size, consisting of three floors over a wide area, housing diverse stores providing beauty products for women and clothes for various ages and occasions.

Recently, websites and social media pages have posted pictures of a new mall that has not yet opened, called “Bedouin Mall,” which holds similar specifications to al-Hamra Mall and Royal Mall.

Enab Baladi observed activities of less massive malls in the cities of Idlib, Maarrat Misrin, and Binnish.

In Aleppo, as well

Commercial centers are also widespread in northern Aleppo, notably in the city of Azaz, including Sakkit Mall in the city’s market, consisting of three floors with specialized stores selling clothes, cosmetics, and decorations.

Kanou Mall, located in the city’s market as well, consists of four floors, with three of them hosting stores for selling clothes only and the upper floor containing medical clinics.

The Azaz Mall is one of the largest commercial centers in the region, housing stores selling various goods; consisting of four floors, where the ground, first, and second floors have stores selling clothes, accessories, and beauty products, while the third floor has offices for various companies, and the fourth floor has a dining hall (cafeteria).

Rentals inside shopping malls

Malls operate under a system of leasing stores, and rental fees vary, as per the owners of commercial stores within Idlib and northern Aleppo’s malls, who spoke to Enab Baladi.

Madeen al-Shami, who runs a fragrance store in al-Hamra Mall, said that the reason he chose to rent a store inside the mall was to attract customers, in addition to the shop’s rental value within the mall, which is considered lower than outside it.

The monthly rent for a store in al-Hamra Mall ranges between $75 and $100, paid within a contract for three or six months.

According to al-Shami, the commercial activity in the mall witnessed a good turnout when it opened, providing profits for the stores inside it, as the costs are considered acceptable in a competitive atmosphere and continuous offers that attract visitors. At the same time, problems arose for the owners with the decline in profits.

He added that the recent media buzz about malls, especially al-Hamra Mall, greatly contributed to a significant decrease in turnout and said, “We hope that the activity returns so that we do not have to reduce the number of employees or close the store.”

On the other hand, Mudar Sheikh Naif, one of the store owners in Azaz Mall, told Enab Baladi that anyone who wants to start a project must study the site and its compatibility with his project initially.

Therefore, most store owners tend to open their businesses in central markets, and it is often difficult to secure a place in them, so Azaz Mall is considered the second center in the city in terms of shopping activity and is an option for many store owners.

According to Sheikh Naif, the location and business activity play a role in the variation of rentals, and there is no relationship between the store being inside or outside Azaz Mall, as the rent for a store inside Azaz Mall ranges between $75 and $300 monthly, with payment every three or six months.

Sheikh Naif believes that the area’s residents are apprehensive about entering malls as they believe that prices inside them are higher due to the luxury and modern designs associated with malls, “and there may be some truth to that,” but the overall interest, according to Naif is good, although it cannot be compared to the popular market visited by the poor, the rich, and all classes, unlike malls.

He added that the economic situation in the north has deteriorated, and most of the residents are government employees with salaries not exceeding $70 monthly, in addition to the decline of the Turkish lira value against the dollar, with the latter dominating the region’s commercial market, while transactions are conducted in Turkish lira. All of this has created problems for the store owner in terms of sales and purchases.

Low wages

The workers in shopping malls in northwest Syria are divided into two categories, including those affiliated with the mall management, working in cleaning, security, coordination, organization, and other tasks assigned by the management.

Their monthly wages range between $100 and $150. As for the workers inside the stores, their wages range between $90 and $125, based on a 12-hour work system and a weekly day off, according to the store owners who spoke to Enab Baladi.

Mohammed, 42, a displaced person residing in the al-Dana camps and working as a cleaner in al-Hamra Mall, stated that he receives $100 as a monthly salary, with a slight increase on some occasions if he receives bonuses (tips).

Mohammed works 12 hours daily and has one day off per week; he mentioned that what he earns is not enough to cover his transportation fare and the cost of some household necessities, “if I relied on the salary, we would die of hunger, but what helps us is the food basket and some assistance from charitable people.”

Abdullah al-Mohammad, a university student working in the stationery section of City Mall in the city of Binnish in Idlib countryside, said to Enab Baladi that in addition to his work in the stationery section, he coordinates merchandise and assists customers in finding their requirements, and he receives a monthly wage of $75. He added that the wage has secured his university installment and some of his daily expenses after saving it during his work in the summer vacation.

Consumption projects

The poverty line in the Salvation and Interim government-controlled areas has reached 7,318 Turkish liras ($394), the extreme poverty line is 5,981 Turkish liras ($322), and the unemployment rate has reached 88.74% on average (with casual work considered within the mentioned categories), according to the Syrian Response Coordination Group (SRCG) working in the region.

Najah Abdul Halim, a researcher assistant at the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, holding a Master’s degree in economics from Marmara University, told Enab Baladi that these projects (malls) are by their nature consumptive, benefiting traders and capital owners, as they ensure quick profits, lacking an effective contribution to rehabilitating the infrastructure or creating sustainable job opportunities.

The current projects seem to contribute to the early recovery process and attract investments, but they fail to provide added value to the local economy, lacking the appropriate strategic vision to enhance the local economy and promote production capacities, according to Abdul Halim.

The future situation of these projects, as per the researcher assistant, requires comprehensive review and substantial improvements to enhance the competitive capacity of the local economy, stimulating investments contributing to achieving sustainable development and enhancing local capacities without heavily relying on imported goods.


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