The Art
Drama Exhibition Film Literature Music
Editor's Corner
Editorial Feature Video
Around Town
Cafe Citylog Fiction Society Outdoors
Mailing List
A Hypermarket for All Seasons
By Negin Motamed
October 2009
به فارسی بخوانيم
  Email to a friend

HYPERSTAR [1] is the name of a superstore that opened its doors to Tehrani customers only last month. It didn't take too long for Tehranis to learn about this HYPERMAKET [2], in spite of the fact that the store never advertised itself on billboards or other media. I visited this store three weeks ago, I was taken by total surprise. Shoppers had flocked to the huge, 9000 square meter (97,000-square-foot) market. You could see mostly families, together with old and young members, dressed for an outing, drooling with excitement and lost in the midst of plenty, checking out items and chatting in long lines to pay for their purchases.

I was, of course, more mesmerized by the scene than by the shopping experience, wondering what the excitement was all about? All the goods were regular local products that you can more or less find in corner stores. True, the variety was impressive and one could conceivably satisfy his/her shopping needs for the next week or even years, from fresh produce, flowers and gardening tools, to clothes and home appliances. Prices were also competitive (we were told 20% less than in local stores). But what was the great excitement about? As I was going through the aisles, I would hear the name "City Center" being dropped: "Hi… we are at the City Center!" I then realized that many people are taking the Hyperstar to be the equivalent of the City Center in Dubai. To Iranians, of course, Dubai has become synonymous with the joy of shopping, two concepts -- shopping and joy -- that were seldom paired in the past. The Hyperstar attendee is revisiting this sensation in West Tehran today.

Few people may know that the concept of hypermarket was first realized by socialist policies of the Carrefour Chain in the sixties. The aim was to save time and money for the urban middle class with goods that were locally produced. In Tehran, and for the past three years, the chain has been trying to open a branch of the Carrefour Chain. At first, a UAE company offered to cover costs with the help of French partners. But in official speak, you won't see the name of the French partner any longer, possibly for political reasons. The store is now in operation after many failed attempts to get it underway.

What I want to know is: How does the presence of such superstores affect our society and city? One of the premises of buying in hypermarkets is saving consumer time and money. A hypothetical customer can purchase not only her breakfast jam but also his sleeping mattress. At the same time, because of its size, such a store cannot open in the middle of the city and must migrate to the suburbs; therefore, access is only through a network of newly built freeways and would presuppose the use of a personal car, not only to get there but also to carry the heavy load. No wonder then that a huge parking space finds itself next to the store.

But this forced use of personal cars adds to traffic (and pollution). This is in direct contradiction with the store's promise of saving time. The other premise is saving money. Going to the store invites massive consumerism on a mostly subconscious level. So, out goes the saving money promise. One may conceivably argue that at least the producers of goods will benefit from increased sales, which is true, of course, but then what about local stores that will suffer as a result?

Even though the excitement of Tehrani citizens forces me reason that at least they will stay in their city rather than going abroad to satisfy their joy-of-shopping, but the thought of many more Hyperstars in the city sends shivers down my spine, as I imagine shoppers, in the bubble of their cars, emptying their tanks to fill their trunks. Less and less people will walk down the street to buy their daily needs and to chat with the storeowner or with other customers. The thought of citizens detached from their city is a painful one. Let there be no more hypermarkets in this city. One is already too much.


[1] "Hyperstar" is a name that Carrefour managers have picked for their Iran store to avoid any reference to the French company that runs Carrefour. {Mark Courboin}, the manager of Hyperstar, told the Islamic Republic News Agency: "Due to some political problems between Iran and France, Carrefour has not permitted us to use its name here." In phone conversation with the Iranian manager of the store, I was told that the French have no role in the Iran Hyperstar and he denied that French managers were running the store.

[2] Hypermarket is a name designating stores that offer perishable next to non-perishable goods, all under one roof. WAL-MART and Carrefour are among hypermarkets with many branches around the world.