Enjoy the charms of a quaint famers market and indulge your shopping fancy with homemade goodies and organic delights at the seasonal Saturday market – Souq es Sabt
Saturdays have become extra special with the onset of the new season of Souq es Sabt (SeS) at Al Mouj Muscat. The Souq has opened up exciting options to shake off the weekend ennui and shop in an ambience that has been deliberately crafted to capture the old world charm of markets run by producers/ manufacturers of the products on sale.
But, if you are looking to while away your time, think again… For Souq es Sabt is not an exhibition. As Sara Majeed Alasfoor, Founder of Souq es Sabt, states, albeit with a cautionary note, “We are a one-of-a-kind local market, NOT an exhibition!”
In the following interview, Sara talks about her inspiration to initiate SeS in Oman and highlights its features and objectives.
How did the idea of SeS come about? Who or what was your inspiration?
It is inspired by my children, Jena and Hamed who were four and three years old at the time. After a visit to a farmers’ market in Europe, they were amazed at the number of stalls and asked me, “Why don’t we have this in Oman”. I explained to them, at the time, that all the stalls had products and things made by the people selling them – whether it was dairy, breads, meats, food, even handmade dolls and clothing and furniture. What struck me in that town was the fact that a lot of the little shops, cafés, and deli’s were, once upon a time, vendors in the local farmers market (that town was famous for hosting the largest annual market in Europe each summer).
Could you trace the growth of SeS since its inception?
SeS started ‘organically’, in every sense of the word. From making organic homemade pesto to using organic home-grown basil leaves… my daughter suggested we make the pesto and sell it! From then on, Jena’s Gourmet Kitchen was born, an idea that my husband and I had been floating since she was little. Following the pesto making bonanza, Jena thought that merely setting up a table and chair in the middle of our living room, would mean she could ‘sell’ to ‘people’. Mom had to ‘invite’ family and friends over to buy from Jena, after securing some orders for the pesto, so Jena could deem her shop successful. Capitalising on the footfall generated, Hamed decided to sell lemonade. A few weekends of the happening in our house, we had friends and neighbours setting up tables all around our living room, and before we knew it, there were 60 people coming in and out of our house to buy homemade sauces, bakes and lemonade!
We decided to take our little ‘market’ of 3 stalls, which quickly turned to 5, into a neighbourhood park. Within weeks, we had up to 10 stalls setting up their tables and tents under the trees, all around the grass. We quickly outgrew that space and were adopted by Al Mouj Golf, where the second season of SeS officially began. Back then, we had 15 stalls and were open every other week of the month. The year after, we moved to The Walk, in Al Mouj Muscat, and started with the market almost double in size – we have been growing ever since. It is worth mentioning that Jena and Hamed are still making and selling pesto and lemonade!
What is the basic premise behind the Souq?
Our ethos is local; locally sourced or locally made… Since we support multicultural diversity, we ask vendors to offer in country value to any items not made in Oman. Other than that, we consider ourselves an entrepreneur’s haven, where small businesses and new ventures can be tried and tested, marketed and known.
Could you highlight the Souq’s unique features?
We are a one-of-a-kind local market, NOT an exhibition. We are different in that we are outdoor and seasonal, so only in operations when the weather is decent. SeS works towards an economic objective, promoting socio-economic growth, promoting internal tourism as well as external for all the visitors coming into Oman during this time of year. We empower youth, women, and entrepreneurs in general, and have a successful track record of supporting the conversion of multiple businesses from the stalls to becoming a real business establishment.
Who are the people it engages with?
SeS is a community event with multi-fold engagement – from the vendor community, to the residential community within which we are hosted, extending to the entire Muscat and beyond. This year, we have participants from Al Dhahira and Batinah regions and one joining from Buraimi next session. Yes, these people are driving for hours every Saturday to join us as members of our vendor community. We are humbled by the support of Al Mouj Muscat, and the entire community in Muscat for their support. The Government, namely the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, have extended their support to us as well, by paving the way for markets as such to operate on a city scale.
Are there any guidelines/criteria for becoming a part of the souq?
Yes, every prospect is initially screened before given an application to apply. They must meet certain standards and criteria to qualify.
Generally speaking, how big is the souq culture in Oman?
The Souq culture in Oman is a traditional one; it has existed for hundreds of years. We have, for example, the Gold Souq in Muttrah, Muttrah Souq itself, a Friday Souq in Wadi al Kabir, not to mention the famous Nizwa Souq every Friday. Surely, there are many more across the regions. SeS is a local souq with a twist; as Muscat is an international city, we chose to have a local representation with a global presence.