IN 2016, a fire from an electrical fault razed down a building which housed one of the oldest pubs in the Gweru central business district, Kudzanai beerhall.
The pub also housed a bottle store and a butchery.
Kudzanai bar was popular with long-distance travellers who thronged the place to quench their thirst while waiting for buses at the adjacent Kudzanai bus terminus.
After the destruction of the building, the place was never rehabilitated and instead, became a hotspot for drug peddlers and public drinking.
But in January this year, a Harare-based construction company, Bentach Resources, saw an opportunity and bought the place from the private owners with a vision to turn it into a shopping plaza.
Bentach started by constructing a brick tile pavement before moving in with a new concept never employed in the country, that of converting shipping containers into a shopping mall.
“This is the first time we are doing this in Gweru and you will find that a complex of this nature is the first of its kind in the country,” Bentach managing director David Kudakwashe told NewsDay Weekender.
Kudakwashe said the shopping complex was set to benefit small-to-medium enterprises that have for long yearned for a decent place to conduct their business.
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“The first phase would see 48 SMEs benefiting from the project and we expect them to start business operations at the beginning of next month. Container shops are something new and you will find that there is more space in these kinds of shops,” he said.
“We also plan to install solar systems which will be our primary source of energy and electricity will be used for back-up as part of efforts to move towards green energy. Each shopping compartment will also have aeration fans and another block of a container will have modern toilets and kitchen units only for the convenience of the entrepreneurs but shoppers as well.”
Gweru Hawkers and Vendors Association chairperson Lovemore Tingaka said the new shopping mall was a welcome development to informal traders who in the past have been used to substandard market stalls.
“Our only prayer is that these shopping cubicles would be affordable to the economically hard-hit informal traders,” he said.
Although Kudakwashe could not disclose the cost of each shopping space, he assured entrepreneurs that would manage to rent the space that they would be given a grace period to settle their business operations before paying.
Although the shopping mall project was a private venture, Bentach already has a partnership with Gweru City Council, which saw the renovation of Kudzanai bus terminus into smart market stalls and a state of the art public toilet.