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Online shopping threatens Syria's outdoor markets

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Sarah Birke/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Souk Salihiyeh in Damascus, Syria, offers a range of foods. The outdoor marketplace faces new competition from online food shopping.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Up in Damascus’s Souk Salihiyah, the streets bustle with shoppers buying fresh produce. But Syria’s souks (marketplaces) have a new competitor: This spring, online food shopping made its debut in the country, already drawing 2,000 customers.

Foodleco.com caters to all possible culinary needs. As well as delivering goods to the customer’s doorstep, the site also offers delivery service from a range of restaurants.

The site – along with a limited but growing number of supermarkets – marks a break from traditional, daily shopping at the vegetable stalls and corner shops that dot nearly every street.

Impersonal online shopping and supermarket anonymity may not re-create the social fabric that is found in souks. But the new service caters to a growing workforce working longer hours. “[Foodleco.com] saves a lot of time,” says Shaza Salem, a website administrator. “And it stops me [from] buying lots of things I don’t necessarily need.”

Foodleco.com highlights the rapid changes in Syrian society in which US-style conveniences are taking over traditional ways of life – but only for the upper classes. With only a very few households able to afford an Internet connection and credit cards, most of the population carries on in the souk as usual.

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