SIDON, Lebanon: Warm winter clothes made to withstand even Europe’s coldest weather are accessible to Sidon’s working class residents thanks to an old – and unique – secondhand culture that dates back to the 1970s. European boots, coats, jackets and sweaters – secondhand shop owner Mahmoud al-Masri sells everything necessary to keep warm through the winter cold. “Authentic, but cheaper than new,” he said.
Although stores for preowned clothes – known locally in Sidon as “Al-Balieh” – are now uncommon in Lebanon, remnants of times past, in the 1970s, secondhand shopping was a common pastime in Sidon.
When poverty rose during the Civil War that plagued the country between 1975 and 1990, a special market popped up to cater to those who couldn’t afford new clothes.
But as the war ended, the shops gradually disappeared. By the late 2000s, only a small handful were left.
This is because a lot of shops made the transition from selling used to new products after their owners either passed the business on or migrated, said Mohammad Hamdan, who himself inherited a secondhand shoe shop from his late father 17 years ago.
While Hamdan abandoned his inherited business, Masri is proud to still be running his. Masri said he imports secondhand clothes from the U.S. and Germany, saying proudly that often products from renowned global brands end up at his store.
“I sometimes get phone calls from directors and owners of companies and institutions who place orders,” he said with a proud smile.
Although authentic high-fashion brands and “good quality” clothes can be found on the stalls of Al-Balieh shops, store owner Abou Anis Yassin said some customers these days are ashamed of buying preused items in front of other people.
However, he said this doesn’t mean they don’t nip by in the quiet, early hours or late at night.
Sabah, who asked not to give her surname, said she wasn’t ashamed of buying secondhand clothes, even if people stare. “I am not stealing or begging. I am merely spending what I can,” she said.
Others pursuing the stall said the items added intrigue, leaving them pondering the garments’ past.
“Sometimes, you buy really pretty dresses and you never know, but you could be wearing the clothes of a German actress or a minister,” Batoul Nasser said with a giggle as she looked through the garments.