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One of them, “Allegro,” is anchored by Jumbo, a major grocery store and supermarket that’s the closest in concept here to Walmart, Sam’s Club, and/or Costco. Jumbo has its own “little” box store attached which sells all different types of electrodomésticos (household appliances) at discounted prices. There’s also a laundry opposite Jumbo, where you can have five shirts washed and ironed by hand for under $10.
The Allegro mall offers underground parking, as well as a food court comprising half a dozen or so eateries ... a bowling alley, and a multiplex cinema showing the latest movies (often, American flicks with Portuguese subtitles).
Among the other stores (“lojas”) in this two-story mall are an optician, a household goods shop not unlike World Bazaar or Pier One Imports,and a discount shoe store with an attractive selection for men, women, and children; a health “supplement” store, a bowling alley, a pharmacy, and a unisex clothing store ... as well as random pop-up kiosks.
Nearby is another shopping center, The Forum, which reminds me more of the stores populating malls in the USA when they were magnets attracting folks for shopping and socializing. With covered parking rather than underground, the Forum, too, has its own fabulous food court comprising nearly half of the upper level.
In addition to a host of delicious “fast-food restaurants” – our favorites are the kabob place (a complete meal with an overstuffed kabob featuring your choice of meat or chicken + French fried potatoes + a drink ... that costs just five euros!) and a “churrasqueira” (barbecue grill) – are various options.
Out of nostalgia, on our first trip to the Forum, we ate at Burger King (there’s a Subway sandwich shop there, too).
Not a good choice, all things considered.
Clustered around the food court topping the lower level are the types of shops I remember, that formerly filled our American malls: several franchised clothing stores, opticians, sporting goods shops, electronics and appliance dealers, footwear, booksellers, a gift shop or two, a place to buy religious icons and paraphernalia, a discount cosmetics shop, an ice cream parlor, and yet another shoe store.
Taking a trip to Allegro or the Forum is like returning to yesteryear, when America really was great. (Insider joke: “MAGA!”) There are the throngs of window-shoppers, people queuing up to pay for their purchases, families and friends socializing, that made malls and shopping centers a normative chapter in American life.
Unlike the vacancies, closures, and ghetto-ization of malls happening in the USA, however, people here in Portugal go there to shop and spend money— the heyday hallmarks of our former suburban centers ... before their anchor stores went bankrupt, drowning ancillary shops, closing the cineplexes, and leaving but a few lonely holdouts hoping that things would turnaround again.
Other outposts drawing shoppers to the industrial zone are the car dealerships, “big box” stores, stand-alone “hiper” markets and major grocery stores, furniture emporiums, tire shops, linen outlets, and the largest Chinese bazaar of them all. There’s also a second-hand furniture shop, as well as the manufacturing facilities that give the area its name.
This is where we found the new kitchen showroom and production place where we ordered ours, choosing from a wide selection of cupboards and cabinets, drawer and door pulls, sinks and spigots, granite counters and back splashes, all shown to us by a knowledgeable and congenial young sales associate.
To my unindoctrinated eyes, one of the nicest things about shopping in Castelo Branco is that consumers still have a choice of venues: the hustle-bustle crowds in these shopping centers don’t necessarily compete with the more tranquil specialty shops along the avenues, side streets, and back alley hideaways where people still stroll, enjoy a cup of coffee, a couple of cervejas, or glass of wine at the outdoor cafes ... dining out or inside the plethora of family restaurants and chef-owned cuisines that haven’t been gobbled up by the chains.
Bruce Joffe is an award-winning author of six books, academic research and journal articles, bylined newspaper stories, magazine features, essay/blogs, and progressive, peer-reviewed sermons, you can find him on his facebook page Bruce H Joffe