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Streets of Cairo: Darb al-Barabra

A refreshing change from the shops the average bride in Egypt visits, Darb al-Barabra offers brides willing to dig deep a chance to buy much of what they need at half the price, while enjoying an original shopping experience with a traditional flavor.

It is hard to believe that this narrow alley has, for decades, been the destination of brides looking for furniture and other marriage-related items. It is especially known for its wide range of chandeliers and for being the number one provider of all the items necessary for the traditional celebration Egyptians hold for babies a week after they’re born, “sobou.”

When it comes to sobou necessities, Darb al-Barabra has it all at the cheapest prices in Egypt. The day’s prerequisites include decorated candles, bonbonnieres, wrapping with ribbons bearing baby names, sweets, decorations and plastic dishes.

Zamzam inherited her husband’s sobou shop 30 years ago and has been running it since then. She says Darb al-Barabra has always been and will remain the only outlet for sobou items in Cairo.

“Even the other shops that sell sobou necessities buy them from here and resell them at higher prices,” says Zamzam.

Madiha Ahmed, a great grandmother, recalls buying all her daughters’ furniture from Darb al-Barabra. She recalls a veil maker who was very famous at one time and made the best wedding veils in Egypt.

Even though the place has, over time, lost the interest of the higher classes who now head to better-known and conveniently located stores, it still offers high quality furniture that competes with the products of high end stores, at half the price.

The street doesn’t only contain the humble stands you would expect to find in an alley but also large, chic stores.

Amany Shady, a bride-to-be, came from Mansoura to buy her home furniture. After looking around, Shady reached the conclusion that Darb al-Barabra has products of the same quality as elsewhere but at great prices. How great depends on your ability to bargain.

“I buy the same products here at half the price. I also get ten years’ insurance and I leave completely assured of the quality of the product,” says Shady.

In Darb al-Barabra, the question “how much is this?” is immediately and inevitably followed by “and what’s the final price?” after which the vendor and the customer go back and forth until the vendor swears it’s the best price he can give.

Bargaining is an integral part of the shopping experience in Darb al-Barabra. Merchants factor it in when determining their prices, making them higher than they want so they have room to respond to the bargaining of the customer, who won’t buy without the satisfaction of having lowered the price.

Despite being known as a busy market for decades, the vendors of Darb al-Barabra are now complaining of a severely diminishing clientele. Many people economically affected by the revolution cancel or at least downsize unnecessary occasions such as sobou, hurting sales.

While decreasing demand is negatively affecting the vendors, it is actually good news for potential new clients. The street, the biggest flaw of which used to be its crowdedness, is now empty enough for a relaxing experience and prices that were already competitive have gone down even more in response.

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