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Friday, February 26, 2016

A Look at Omar Effendi Department Store

We are interested in buying a small freezer.  This would cut down on the number of trips we have to make to the larger markets.  We are looking for a freezer about the size of a "dorm refrigerator."

This took us downtown to Abdel-Aziz Street, where all the outlets for appliances are congregated.  I wrote about this district a couple of years ago in this post.  It's where all of the "small box" appliance stores can be found.  Here is a picture.

Just pick a store with a salesman that you like.  Don't worry, if they don't have what you are looking for, someone will comb all the other stores for it and the two stores will split the profit on your fairly negotiated price.  Sit down, please.  And have some tea!

On the way to this area, we passed by a large pinkish-orange building that looked very interesting.  As we reached the entrance, I found it in a sad state of disrepair but realized that it had belonged to Omar Effendi.


Omar Effendi was a very successful large department store chain that can trace its history back to 1857.  It has a local history and operated on the same business model as Hudson's in Detroit, Dayton's in Minneapolis, Barr's in St. Louis, etc. through most of the twentieth century.   Interestingly, we bought our first Cairo refrigerator and stove at one of the suburban locations of Omar Effendi before we became aware of the "new retail model" stores on Abdel-Aziz Street.

I decided to cross the street and take a few pictures.  What a grand flagship store she must have been!
OmarEffendi-1 Omar4-1

Look at a few of the architectural details still proudly displayed along the six-story face.
OmarEffendi-3 Omar3-6

The building itself dates from 1909 and was designed by the French architect, Raoul Brandon for what was then the Orosdi-Back chain.  Try Googling "Orosdi Back" and look at images and books for an interesting diversion.

This advertisement tells the story in words and the advertising postcard portrays a Cairo long past.

For a long period of time, that globe at the top of the building shone a light that was visible for miles across Cairo, attracting shoppers downtown.

The Omar Effendi chain suffered many indignities from nationalization in 1957 to an apparently badly botched privatization in 2006.

An article in the U.K. Guardian outlines the history of the store:
The once-chic department store, which still stands in downtown Cairo like a fallen diva, started off as Cairo's answer to Harrods, and was frequented by the city's large European population and the moneyed Egyptian elite, including the semi-feudal land-owning pasha class. It fed the modernising city's voracious appetite for all things European and western.
 The ultimate downfall of the government privitization story involves the World Bank (your money at work!) and a Saudi Arabian company.  There is a fifteen page document titled, "Omar Effendi, Who's to Blame?" with a one page executive summary that tells the tale.  It is a story of layoffs, delayed payments to employees and suppliers etc.  The report fails, however, to put the story in any context of the world-wide collapse of the department store business model.  The history of the chain and the employee travails do make interesting reading.

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