Foul for a Fool
1920's Art Deco Splendour of the Simon Arzt Department Store
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Once the most famous and exclusive department store in Port Said, and arguably Egypt, Simon Artz was well known for its fine imported goods and wealthy clientele. Sitting along the corniche and harbour next to the Thomas Cook & Son building, Simon Arzt was an unmissable landmark in the heart of the city.
The iconic Simon Arzt department store covered 2,000 square metres over two galleries and had a grand glass ceiling for natural light. The exterior of the building, also a great example of Art Deco design, had a street facade running 40 metres along Sharia Palestine. It was praised in its time for its modern style and glamorous design, an impression in large helped by the shop staff that wore white suits and red tarbooshes (fezes).
It was said that travellers on their way through the Suez Canal to India, Australia, Africa, etc, could find everything they needed at Simon Arzt. The department store even housed a florist, hairdresser, post office, pharmacy and photo studio.
The department store's namesake, Simon Artz, was one of the first members of the Jewish community to arrive in Port Said in 1869, having come from New York, and started producing and selling cigarettes under his name. Simon Artz cigarettes became well known for their high-quality Turkish tobacco and distinctive packaging. However, it was his nephew Max Mouchly who turned the Simon Arzt enterprise into the famous and well-respected department store. Mouchly quickly became a figurehead and leader of Port Said's Jewish community, which numbered roughly 1,000 at the time. So too did his reputation grow abroad as Simon Arzt became world-famous for its size and array of goods, and the shop quickly expanded to have branches in New Dehli and Paris.
In spite of its current dilapidated state, having now remained closed for decades, Simon Arzt is still a beautiful example of 1920's Art Deco modernism despite the broken windows and gutted interior. Egyptians still pose for pictures outside and Egyptians old enough to remember it, talk proudly of its previous splendour and selection of fine goods.
However, after years of being unused and sliding into disrepair, finally, work has started in bringing SImon Arzt back to its former glory. At a total cost of 85 million EGP, Egypt's Ministry of the Public Business Sector has committed itself to renovate the grand building. Although the exact plans for the building are unclear, I'm excited to see what plans they have in store for it.
Nevertheless, even in its current state, the Simon Arzt department store is still something well worth putting on your Port Said itinerary and its Art Deco grandeur can be easily enjoyed from a leisurely walk along the corniche boardwalk.