Jerusalem Face Lift

The landscape of Jerusalem is in constant change, and today’s report covers two dramatic changes in the appearance of Jerusalem. One is in the Old City, the other in the New City. One isn’t terribly surprising, the other,…well, let’s just say, I never would have imagined.

New City

One of Jerusalem’s major construction undertakings – both in cost and time – is the new light rail system that is supposed to help ease the strain of getting around town, reduce traffic congestion in the city, and reduce pollution. We’ll have to wait and see if it accomplishes any of those objectives.

Anyway, the project has finally arrived downtown and Jaffa street has been almost completely removed. It has been reduced to a single lane with the rest of the road completely excavated to lay the foundation of the light rail system.

For those who have spent significant time in Jerusalem, the many appearances of the Jaffa Gate area (the beginning of Jaffa Road) are no longer startling: the area has been lifted and lowered, pushed and pulled, and otherwise dramatically changed a half dozen times since I first came to live in Jerusalem in August 1990.

The change to the downtown segment of Jaffa Road hasn’t changed at all during my time here. That is, until now. It will never again be like it was. However, due to all the changes near Jaffa Gate, this change isn’t so hard to imagine.

Below are two photos of the area of Jaffa Road and Ben Yehuda.

Old City

You’ve probably heard the saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” What has remained a modest – some would say sloppy and run down – tourist shop in the Old City will no longer be modest or sloppy or rundown. That’s right, Ali Baba Souvenir Shop #14 – proprietor, Shaban Amer, a favorite hangout to countless students over the years, is getting a major face lift.

In the late 80’s Shabban bought into the Walmart approach to marketing: Moving lots of merchandise at a small profit margin makes both the seller and buyer happy. Shabban continues to secure his customer base with a “one low price, no-bargaining” pricing system, his automatic offer of something to drink – even if you’re not buying, his ability to get most anything a customer may want or take them to a friend or relative that offers such an item, his connections throughout the West Bank that can be helpful for the more adventurous students, and his ability to recover purses and/or wallets that have been lifted from unsuspecting tourists/students elsewhere in the market. He’s a real hero to many. But if not a hero, most still view Shabban as an honest, reliable vendor. A friend.

Without going into the private details, I can say that over the last x-number of months some business issues have pushed Shabban to give his shop a complete face lift. I’m not talking about a fresh coat of paint. I’m talking (back) wall removal, resurfacing the walls and ceiling arches, fresh paint, new shelving, etc. When the doors reopen, you can expect to see a much larger, cleaner, and more organized shop.

Not only will the shop look different, but the items on the shelves will also be different. Different in the sense that his stock of items will be multiplied. Rather than the narrow range of low budget stock, he will now offer merchandise in both low budget and high ticket price ranges.

A few times Shabban has reminded me of how difficult and expensive the remodeling work is, but he has also assured me that in spite of the expense of this new look and feel, he will remain the same dependable and fair priced shop keeper. The changes are not an effort to change his client base, rather they are an effort to expand his base to include others.

This is what Ali Baba Souvenirs #14 looks like at the moment:


  1. COOL! thanx for the update. I was a student for 2 different, non-consecutive semesters (one with Bill S and one with Todd B) and Shaban was a staple. I always likened him to ‘the boss’ of the old city…if it was to be had or known, Shaban was the shot caller that could make it happen! He’d walk the corridors of the Old City and people would wave, children would come and he’d give them candy, mothers would have him kiss their babies. I always felt unbelievably saf with Shaban!

    I hope his shop yields him the clientel and profit margins he’s looking for!

  2. Hi Craig–Thanks for the post about Shaban’s! It was great to see you, even if briefly, this summer. Come visit if you are ever on the left coast. . . LaGeorge

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