When I heard of
the famous Cairene department stores (pronounced Shikuril in Arabic)
mentioning in an post on a Yahoo group, it was natural that a flood of
memories invaded my mind. These type of stores were prevalent in the forties
(1940's), and many of them even going back to the beginning of the
I always considered
that advertising was not only a communication tool between companies and
their customers, but also a social actor and a cultural artifact. Many
of the products you mentioned reflected a cosmopolitan society transplanted
I recall that, the
department store was adjacent to it's main competitor and rival, Cicurel,
both situated on Shari` Fuw'ad (today renamed
26th of July street).
The unrelenting competition between these stores was legendary. In a way,
their competitive rivalry echoes what you might find in big American cities
such as Jordan Marsh and Filenes in Boston; and Macy's
and Bloomingdale's in New York.
When you mentioned
the "X-Ray Machine to examine how comfortable your feet will be in your
new shoes". I recall vividly, that in the Buster Brown Shoe
Section in the Cicurel shoe department, you could put your feet
in a standup machine and could look at a live X-Ray of your feet inside
the shoes to see if they fit OK.
All Buster Brown
shoe departments had this "novelty" as a part of their promotion.
Does anyone recall their motto, recited by a lad with a pageboy hair cut
and his dog: "Hi, I'm Buster Brown, I live in a shoe. Here's my dog,
Tige, he lives in there, too?" Believe it or not this was
happening in Cairo, Egypt, while a good friend of mine in
the states said he experienced the same thing in the small Midwestern town
he grew up in during the 1940s.
along with Gattegno and Hannaux were the cream de la crème
of fashionable department Stores in pre and post WW II Cairo. Daoud
`Ades, Salon Vert, Carnaval de Venise, Pontremoli, Rivoli,
and Benzion followed in elegance and diversity. Many of these were
established after the British occupied Egypt in 1882.
It was a time in
that favored a special class of people and type of foreigners, many of
them refugees, Jews from Central Europe, Izmir (Turkey) , Syrian
(shawam) and Greek immigrants that managed to transplant
a flavor of little Europe in the midst of Egypt. These were, at the
time, Egypt's cosmopolitan society which yielded considerable commercial
and financial clout.
The attempt to create
a European atmosphere, though mesmerizing, was artificial and over time
could not be sustained as it did not relate to the average Egyptian consumer.
To my knowledge, only Orosdi-Back AKA Omar Effendi
and Bata shoes catered to the Egyptian masses and had stores
present in all Egyptian cities in the mudiriyat or governorates.
the various the "wabours" Kerosene ghaz stoves both
regular and the "Primus" with their Ibrat wabour, a sort
of a tin hand with a needle at the end used to choke the stove, and the
sibirtayah. In rural area the "Klobe" a Kerosene run lantern reigned
Other main products
of this period, I recall, were the famous Coutarelli cigarettes
with their fancy square boxes and golden paper wraps, ICA chewing
gum, Kolynos toothpaste, Palmolive and Lux hand
soaps, Cream Nivea, al-Alfy kharazan (rutan) chairs. Soft
drinks were produced by Spathis ( in Cairo) and Blue Cross (in
Alexandria). In the food industry, the macaroni industries of
were well known.
Cheese and butter
production of Archyriou, Roussoglou, Groppi and Tahta (Antoniadis)
and Paleoroutas. Chocolate-Biscuits and Toffee producers were: Groppi,
Daloghlou, Roussos, Repapis and Quaydir wa Khatiyb (situated fil mamar
al-Tugariy); Oil-soaps- vegetable fats (Salt & Soda) producers
like Zerbinis and the indispensable popular Nabulsiy Shahin
soap for washing women's hair were all based in Kafr Al-Zayyat.
Finally, not to forget
the many Egyptian movie posters which were individually painstaking painted
and calligraphed by hand.
All of this foreign
influence came to a crashing end in the space of one day.
On January 26,
1952, I personally witnessed this event, where these stores were all
torched during the Black Saturday riots that erupted in Cairo in retaliation
to the British massacre of Egyptian policemen in al-'Isma`iyliyah
the day before.
The stores were later
rebuilt, however their old splendor and luster was never to be recaptured.
Then came the nationalization of these department stores and their
joining the public sector in the 1960's -1990's before they
were recently sold, once again to the private sector.
It is interesting
how advertising, as a cultural artifact, had reflected a vanishing Cosmopolitan
society which once ruled Egypt in the distant past. For the few
elitist socialites, the period was heaven on earth; to the majority of
Egyptians, the period represented a troubling time, full of deprivation
and utter humiliation.
Many thanks for the
poster for sharing these amazing photos, they are effective memory triggers.
* ( wabour
:the Egyptian slang version of vapor while "sibirtayah" referring
to spirits (alcohol run portable stove).