The name China Square is now on everyones lips.
This is after, Investments, Trade and Industry Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, waded into the brewing trade tiff between Kenyan traders & Chinese traders.
The CS, in a tweet posted on Friday evening, said he had urged Kenyatta University Vice Chancellor Prof. Paul Wainaina to buy out the lease for the establishment.
According to Kuria, once this is done, he wants the institution’s don to then hand over the said lease to local traders in a bid to boost their businesses, which have presumably suffered a hit since China Square came to town.
While all this was happening, small-scale traders drawn from Kamukunji, Eastleigh, Luthuli Avenue and Gikomba have already planned a ‘peaceful’ demonstration in the city center to protest against China Square’s looming business dominance.
Spurred by the social media hype around the shopping mall, we decided to hit the road to China Square and find out a couple things.
One thing about Nairobians – they love a good bargain.
Whether deep-pocketed or just barely scraping at the bottom of the barrel, the typical Nairobian understands the need to save that coin, travel a little further for a good deal and haul home stuff worth their time, efforts and that inevitable, sweaty jostle in a jam-packed mall.
For years now, Nairobians have flocked to various shopping spots for various needs – stationery, household stuff, decor, clothing, cutlery, beddings, electronics, and even uniquely-odd kitsch items.
But over the last few weeks, the city seemed to be under a bewitching spell cast by a fairly-new, astoundingly gigantic shopping bazaar along Thika Road.
China Square opened its doors on the 29th of January (barely a month ago) and since the gates were flung open, the sweeping indoor souk has attracted a frenzied mass of excited shopping pilgrims who troop there daily, in their thousands, jamming the cashier section for hours on end.
Unlike the labyrinthine mess that characterizes shopping spots like Eastleigh and Kamukunji, China Square’s irresistible allure seems to have been brought about by the immaculate aisles and clear numbering which helps any shopper, young or old, tired or sprightly, to quickly identify the lane they’re in, what they want and how fast to wiggle there.
Also, maybe the fact that, just like your typical supermarket, there exists only one chain of command.
Piqued by the online fuss, we arrived at China Square a few minutes past 4pm. The entire gate section was garrisoned by troops of chirpy boda-boda riders who, like, flies to a carcass, had followed the stench of a hearty meal ahead.
At the parking lot, cars stretched to the farthest corners, with uber drivers doing zany u-turns as shoppers, bogged down by bulging shopping bags, poured onto the parking area.
But before the China Square advent, Nairobians have patronized spots like Toy Market, Kamukunji Market, Eastleigh (in its unlimited entirety), Miniso, Gikomba and for the beauty buffs, Perida Centre along Dubois Road for their weekly fix of retail therapy.
But every Nairobian has different things they need in their shopping cart and therefore, not everyone who hits the road for the markets necessarily wants a wall hanging. Or a tawdry wig.
Anyone who loves their liquor will swear that Mwalimu Wines Agencies at Mfangano Street has the best prices. Beauty-crazed damsels have long discovered the Dubois Road secret, clothing lovers and bed-buffs have their thirsts quenched at Kamukunji, for the curtain and fabrics types, Eastleigh does the trick, kitsch aficionados know their way to the nearest Miniso outlet and cutlery junkies will troop to, once again, Kamukunji.
In Nairobi, the home of busybodies and shrewd charlatans, everyone craves for something – but, ultimately, must go out of their way to grab it at its best quality and lowest price.
“I saw China Square in Tiktok. Everyone seemed to be reposting those videos. I was curious to understand what this place was all about, where it was and the prices. All I can say is, I’m not disappointed,” Shamim Mohammed, a shopper from Kariokor, said.
As Miss Mohammed stood in a seemingly endless queue, waiting for her turn at the checkout section, hundreds of curious rubberneckers, leaning on the railing, craned their necks.
“Rudi nyuma bana!” a burly security guard yelled as he attempted to shove back surging crowds. An incensed couple hurled a few choice epithets at him.
“It is not easy dealing with these crowds. All manner of people are coming here. Most are here to shop, others are driven here by sheer curiosity. The mall’s entrance, normally, should always be clear to allow free movement of human traffic but here, it looks like a concert,” the security guard, who declined to be named, told us.
Inside, crowds bulged as shopping carts collided mid-push. A young lady, exhausted from standing in the cashier queue for too long, simply passed out and had to be moved to a less crowded area – the staircase.
“At the end of the day, when the buzz eventually dies down and the hype decreases, Kenyans will decide whether to stick to their traditional shopping outlets or continue trooping to this new market. It’s basically driven by curiosity and the need to find a better deal, whether or not it exists. Several factors are required to maintain that constant flow of clients and, with time, we can only watch and see what happens, ” Grace Wanjiku, a trends expert, told Citizen Digital.
For now, everyone – from the debonair to the everyday folks – has a thing to not only satiate their eyes but also match their pockets.
But like Grace said, it’s only a matter of time.