Food for the mind and senses

2/7/2004

Prime Megastore at Mecca Mall in Amman

RETAIL | Ahmad Humeid visit’s Amman’s first proper media store

Burgers, clothes and cinnamon rolls. This pretty much sums up Amman’s shopping malls. Add to that hundreds of over eager teenagers at the gates and you end up with a predictable mall experience that makes you want to escape to old Jabal Amman for a touch of authenticity and surprise.

This tilt towards food for the belly needed some balancing with some food for the mind and senses. And the good news is that it’s finally here: Jordan’s first proper media “megastore”.

Prime Megastore at Mecca Mall has just gone into soft opening mode a week ago. The concept is familiar. The ‘media store’, with its combination of printed and audiovisual entertainment products and espresso bar has become a standard fixture of malls and shopping streets around the world. Throw in a few cool digital cameras, mp3 players and camcorders and you’ve got the perfect mix to attract today’s consumer of culture and entertainment.

A store front with huge screens, stacks of new books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and software products, and a highly stylized retail space are luring Mecca Mall’s shoppers in. Compared to the dusty shelves of most of Amman’s old bookstores, Prime Megastore is a totally new experience for Jordanians. And although the store is not fully stocked yet, the initial selection of products looks promising.

“Upstairs we’ll have a café, complete with wireless internet access and PC stations,’ says an enthusiastic Bassam Hajjawi, one of the partners behind Prime Megastore. I caught up with the veteran media executive at a mall café, just across the store. Prime’s café still needs some finishing touches and is not open yet.

Hijjawi’s partners are an impressively complimentary group, including Prime Pictures, who control the distribution right for a number of major US film studios in the Middle East, and the Antoine Group, the people behind the famous Librarie Antoine in Beirut.

The Lebanese influence on the store is obvious and welcome. Not only did I find some very new books on display (like Bill Clinton’s My Life) but also I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent collection of architecture and design books available. The last time I witnessed something similar was on a book-hunting trip to Beirut last year.

“One should buy some of these good books quick, before they decide to discontinue this section!” said a young architect I found standing in front of the Architecture shelf. “People in Amman don’t read and this won’t last,” he added.

“I totally disagree with this opinion,’ says Hajjwai when faced with this feedback. “People in Amman do read. They’re just not used to walking into a bookstore and finding something they want to read. What we’ve done is bring the books to the mall and put them in front of people,” he exclaims. Prime’s plan emphasizes a good balance between foreign and Arabic books (I found an impressive French shelf, yet another sign of Antoine’s influence). Building relations with Jordanian publishers to ensure that Jordanian books are well represented in the store is another idea currently in the works.

Hajjawi says that since the store’s opening, book sales have widely exceeded their expectations. This is confirmed by Ms Hala Farraj, head of Prime’s book section. Her enthusiasm for books is visible. She joined Prime’s operation recommended by Librarie Antoine. A few years back she was running her own bookstore near the Birzeit University in Palestine, but the continued Israeli closures during the current intifada made it exceedingly hard for her to operate such a business, so she decided to join Prime.

When I pointed out to her that the selection of technology books was quite thin, Farraj responded that she is waiting to get feedback from customers on what their needs are before she stocks that particular section. “Technology books have a shelf life of six months and it would be unwise to fill that section before knowing what the readers want,” she says.

Besides books and magazines, the store is already well stocked with music CDs, DVDs, video games and educational software. Hajjawi says that Prime is currently building a website that will enable customers to order items that they don’t find on the shelves and pick them up from the store when they arrive, yet there are no plans for home delivery.

Hajjawi is aware that in the next few years Prime will face competition from other players in the region, such as Virgin Megastore, already operating in Dubai and Beirut. “The more the merrier,” he reacts.

“Competition is good. Our real enemies are piracy and contradictory government regulations,” Hajjawi complains. Although technically there are no custom duties on sound and video recordings, Hajjawi says that governmental “inspection” and other tariffs and fees are still being charged, resulting in a higher price for the consumer and encouraging piracy.

Still, Hajjawi is confident of Prime’s success. The company looks forward to opening more stores in Jordan and regionally in the future.

Prime Megastore is giving book and media addicts a good excuse to go the mall. It fills an important gap in the kingdom’s retail landscape. Three cheers for that.

17 Comments

  1. Saqf says:

    Thanks to your blog, you made me feel I was in Paris going thru all sorts of media at LE FNAC!
    I was surpised to read about Prime Megastore especially I was in Mecca Mall a couple of days ago and didn’t notice it was there! I couldn’t wait till tomorrow, I went there and spend an easy two and half hours with a smile on my face!
    I did some heavy shopping at the Design books section, I said to myself, finally we have a decent store where you don’t have to worry how the book will look like from the inside if you were buying it from the net, or not even worry about your luggage weight at the airport’s baggage check in! This can’t get any more convenient.
    The prices are close to those of the net, and for the reasons mentioned earlier, I would pay a little extra.

    The same day, I told one of my closest friends who happens to have books for dinner and sometimes lunch, so he went there right away, and yet another two to three hours were spent!
    Thanks to a very useful blog.

    One thing I have noticed, besides the notes you mentioned, is that people were really friendly and helpful! This is something I am experiencing in Amman shops more often! Things are reallying taking a different course on that level.

  2. Ammar Ibrahim says:

    Wow, I hope that this store would work out. We really need a good media store in Amman. I would love to visit the place very soon, but the sad thing is that there aren’t many tech books. I hope that they’ll increase this selection.

  3. Natasha Twal says:

    Im glad to hear that. Jordan really needs such a place! If all goes well, I will be in Amman this Wednesday. I’ll make sure to pay it a visit.

  4. osama el banna says:

    well thank you for this intresting article.i was in amman for 2 month during the preparation phase for the megastore,the place is a beauty.the cafe is soon to be openned with a very intresting food menu and a verstile and colorful drinks menu,not just your tradional espresso/french coffee kind of drinks.please keep the follow up.

  5. Lima says:

    I am a book addict myself. When I visited the store, I felt that when the stock is complete, this will be a place to quench the thirst of all book lovers in Amman. I also noticed that in some cases the managed to get the low-priced editions of some books namely novels bu Paolo Choelo; for one title their price was 6 compared to 10 in other bookshops. The cafe is a haven in itself. We were greeted with a fiendly young lady & the service came with a smile. Prices were the same as other cafes in Jordan, but for excellent quality. I especially loved the freshly brewed coffee since mmost cafes in Amman use machines!!!! Prime megastore is truly one place to go to, tell of, and be happy about!!

  6. Lima says:

    I am a book addict myself. When I visited the store, I felt that when the stock is complete, this will be a place to quench the thirst of all book lovers in Amman. I also noticed that in some cases they managed to get the low-priced editions of some books namely novels by Paolo Choelo; for one title their price was 6 compared to 10 in other bookshops. The cafe is a haven in itself. We were greeted with a friendly young lady & the service came with a smile. Prices were the same as other cafes in Jordan, but for excellent quality. I especially loved the freshly brewed coffee since most cafes in Amman use machines!!!! Prime megastore is truly one place to go to, tell of, and be happy about!!

  7. nasimjo says:

    PRIME MEGASTORE kicks ass ….
    it hot & nice …..
    just better than words to express it!

  8. Maysa Odeh says:

    Let’s agree to disagree.
    It’s the first store I visit when I go to mecca mall. In fact, it’s the only store whose atmosphere I can somewhat tolerate. Clearly, the Prime Megastore was strategically placed on the food court, easily the most disturbing floor of the mall. But my experience with this bookstore has been anything but perfect. Glossing over the lamentable collection of video games and music (DOA anyone? GTA? The White Stripes? Red Hot Chili Peppers?), let’s focus on the book variety, or lack thereof. I ordered the tenth installment of the Wheel of Time series about 6 months ago and it never arrived. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is nowhere to be found. Frank Herbert’s Dune series is incomplete and none of Italo Calvino’s works are available. And for God’s sake, where is Pat Conroy? Toni Morrison? Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Who in their right mind stocks Love and Other Demons and exempts One Hundred Years of Solitude? These authors are popular worldwide, but apparently Amman is an exception to everything. My favorite classics are ridiculously overpriced and the method with which the employees arrange the books is irritating to say the least. Honestly, when the staff try to help me locate something, they seem just as lost as I am (I think that covertly there is no system at all, just a travesty of one). I wish they’d just come out and say “No I have no idea what you’re talking about though I can repeat the title you speak of well enough. Don’t you admire my linguisitc dexterity? But really though, I forgot where I put that one because I don’t care much for books myself and I’m only working here so I can invest my paycheck at the Mango downstairs next month. Go away and stop making me feel uncomfortable. I was trying to flirt with my coworker.” *the sound of grinding teeth ensues* Sweeping through the seemingly random assortment of books, my heart will flutter as I come by The Idiot and Notes From Underground bound in one glorious cover, only to cave in as the price tag comes into view. Dostoyevsky would be apalled, and he’s a smart guy, that Dostoyevsky, so my complaints are unequivocally valid. Comparing the Prime Megastore to bookstores in the US is so ridiculous I wouldn’t think of it if I weren’t so frustrated. Those affordable prices, relaxing sofas, and incredible selections of books, music and pastries (hehe yum) flood my mind with bittersweet images as I walk into mecca mall and hurridly stalk toward the second floor, frightening brightly garbed preteens (they’re like awkward little highlighters, aren’t they? Delightful.) along the way. At this point, a dingy public library with creepy librarians and flickering light fixtures would make me convulse with rapture. It’s difficult to seriously consider your claim that Jordanians “read”. I have yet to meet someone in Amman who’s read more than, say, 50-100 novels. After all, if people read anything decent (I hereby stip Romance of it’s right to be a respectable book genre. Fyodor lends his approval.) where on earth are they finding it? And if they’re especially clever scavangers, where are they getting the money to fund their intellectual needs? Anybody who pays more than ten dollars for Bram Stoker’s Dracula deserves to die, pure and simple. But oh well. Thank god I’m leaving this place in the fall. Modesto Public Library, I return with a heavy heart to your august aisles where knowledge is sacrosanct and books are an object of the highest respect and esteem.

  9. JC says:

    Stan State probably has a much better library for lit than MPL.
    When are you leaving Amman?

  10. nanoosh says:

    waw, im impressed, i thought amman was still behind, it sucked all they had was this crappy store called c-town, bas this mall seems cool,,

  11. Aveen says:

    Well… I’m Iraqi living in Jordan for 4 years.. I visited almost every place in Amman… but after Prime MegaStore opened Me and My husband go there once a week every weekend and spend alot there for books, Magazines, Audio CDs and DVDs… and we stay there not less than 3 hours!!!! its really very nice place and very interested… they welcoms you with a smile.. talk with you and very helpful.. sometimes they even play with my daughter.. they are very friendly… you can find a good collection of almost everything.. books, CDs, cameras, magazines, DVDs, … etc.
    you can find Design books, cooking, political, children care, women care, medical, tech, horoscops, novels, children stories,….. a good collection of everything and with a very GOOD prices comparing with other stores in Amman… for me I spend maybe an hour between the good collection of Woman’s Weekly cook books… its really good… but if you are interested in cooking, be careful from Chef Ramzi cook books coz I tried many recipes and its all BAAAD as hell… then I figured out that he gave us wrong recipes just to get money without giving his secrets.. Woman’s Weekly cook books are absolutely GREAT… one thing I wanna say about Prime MegaStore in that they need more DVDs collections specially live parties like Deep Purple, Santana, Dire Straits, Pink Floyed, … etc.
    if you ever visited Amman.. dont waste the opportunity to go to Prime MegaStore in Mecca Mall… :)
    Cheers,

  12. Nancy Feisal says:

    i guess that prime megastore rocksssssssss !!!!

  13. [...] s, their sales guy is cute- very punky. “Prime Megastore” in Mecca Mall. Ahhh, Prime. I absolutely adore this place although I don’t get to visit it as often as I’d like because its u [...]

  14. Ehab Mitani says:

    Hello ..
    first i would like to say for the Megastore manager thank you for this idea to give our opinion by internet …
    second .. megastore its my first visit when i be in mecca mall .. loool i like it and i like the components in the store so much ..
    but i just want to ask about tickets for the party in amman waves ( ragheb 3alama & nancy 3ajram ) how i can get this ticket .. thank youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

  15. Mohamed says:

    mecca mall, is a big nice mall

  16. ras ras says:

    I love this store so much and I can not leave from amman without visiting megastore >It is the only place in amman which I loved from my deep heart

  17. [...] Mall, it was, for me, one of the best things that ever happened in Amman. I covered its opening in one of my early blog posts in 2004 on [...]

Leave a Comment