St John’s Fishmarket in Pettah is now a Gold Center. The transformation is one part of Colombo’s big urban plan, and as it is now, it’s actually a pretty interesting place to visit.
The building is totally transformed from the outside, now in clean grey and yellow, with a nicely maintained green lawn. The Gold Center is a posh white marble complex on the inside, full of Colombo’s top jewellery outlets. This is only on the ground floor though – and the rest of the building could not care less: there’s still the old Pitraban bookstore, thrift shop vendors and fishing equipment upstairs, and from the top there’s a great view of the colour and mismatch of the Pettah marketplace.
This is Colombo’s only ‘Gold Center’ – all your jewellery stores in one place. When you walk in, it’s all sparkly white marble and black ‘Gold Center – Pettah’ flags hanging from the ceilings.
The place is said to have 80 stalls in total – some of the big ones we saw were Swarnamahal, Gold Emporium, Beverley, Ariyawansa, Saravana, Earl’s Court and Stone & String. The stores have a selection of gold, gold-plated, silver, crystal and gem-work jewellery, and teams of consultants to help you with your choice.
The ground floor is entirely stores and open space, and if you walk in and take the escalators upstairs, you’ll find a few more stores and a Testa Bakehouse food court.
A lot of the jewellery dealers here are from their main shops in Pettah’s central market, we were told. One of the shopkeepers told us they think the complex is a convenient solution for a lot of Sri Lankans, and that the middle class is increasingly preoccupied with gold and silver jewellery for their weddings and parties. The stuff at the Gold Center is worth from about Rs. 2,000 all the way up to a couple of lakhs, even crores.
All That Glitters…
St John’s Fishmarket may be gone, but the ghost of it still remains in the upper floors of the building. If you take the right or left wing stairs around the sides of the building, and go up, you’ll find fishing equipment, chemical suppliers and a few travel agencies along long corridors that are much the same as before, minus the smell of fresh fish. You’ll find the old St John’s Fishmarket plaques still on a wall here, now smeared with brown paint (there’s a new plaque inside the Gold Center).
There’s also still this massive yellow-brick tower in the middle of the first floor. We’re not sure what it’s for – any guesses? [Editor’s Guess: House Of The Undying] Around the tower are a bunch of random shops – Cake City, communication centers, the presumptuous ‘Hotel for Delicious Foods’. It’s overall a dingy sort of space with the same dodgy old staircases (people sleeping near them included) – hasn’t changed much since the Fishmarket days.
If you go up to the second floor, you still get people selling clothes and stuff in the corridor, Pitraban bookshop where you can get cheap textbooks and random novels, a photo studio and tiny accessory shops. You’ll also find these hand-painted stall guides on the walls that have been there since forever.
Then there’s this view of quirky, colourful Pettah from the top floor.
The Gold Center in Pettah is an interesting place to be at these days. The ground floor complex is beautiful and modern, and the rest of the building is from another time that refuses to move along. It’s the best place to go for serious jewelery shopping, and to just have a look around and marvel at the way the old and the new co-exist in a changing city.