Zaria’s harmony stores and memories of teenage years

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I spent last weekend in Zaria.
I’ve always had an ambiguous relationship with that city, but the visit allowed me a wonderful stroll on the shores of hindsight. Most educated people of my generation in Northern Nigeria will remember Harmony Stores, in the Zaria of the 1970s.

It stocked the high-heeled shoes that were very much the rage of those years, and the shop had what seemed a permanent advertisement space in the New Nigerian newspaper. I went into the Government Secondary School Ilorin library practically each day, not only to read, but to also admire the different “platform” shoes which Harmony Stores advertised, hoping to purchase one, someday. The opportunity came soon after our WASC examination in 1976.

I travelled by train to Zaria and bought the flat, “three layers” that I had always longed for. I returned to Ilorin by the “Limited” train the same evening, literally walking on the moon! There was a tailor around the Saint Barnabas Church, Ilorin (along with Big Show), who seemed the “only” tailors in town; he had sewn for me a bell-bottomed, trouser in anticipation of the six-inch tall, platform shoes.

When I wore the new trousers on my shoes for the first time, I felt the trendiest individual on planet earth! Unfortunately, I was still very skinny and my mother took one long look at me on those “stilts” wondering how I expected to survive the bumpy roads I would walk with the shoes. In my mind, I pitied her inability to “understand fashion” which my new shoes expressed.

But in the next few weeks, I went through a twisted ankle here, a painful toe there and before long, I began to question the wisdom of those shoes. I cannot quite remember how I was eventually weaned off the platform shoes, but everytime I think of fashion items, I wonder when one trend comes to reign and then fades off.

Harmony Stores has long disappeared and the memories of its dominant place in the fashion history of Northern Nigeria have similarly faded.  Very few people in Zaria will even recall that there once was a store in their city which took advantage of the oil boom of the 1970s; the presence of a university in the city and its cosmopolitan composition and the accessibility offered by the railways to become arguably the most successful fashion store in Northern Nigeria, Harmony Stores. If we wait long enough, everything changes.

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