Merchants’ business plummets ahead of Eid

Most shops in Mar Elias Street are hardly able make ends meet. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Shopkeepers and merchants in Beirut lamented what they said was an unprecedented decline in business during Eid al-Adha, as shoppers confined their purchases to bare necessities two days ahead of the Muslim holiday commencing Friday.

“The explosion last Friday and the clashes which followed this incident impede the markets,” Gabriel Tabib said from his Mar Elias clothing store, which was empty of customers.

“I would not lie to you if I said my business is down by up to 80 percent from the same time ahead of last Eid,” he added.

Asked about procedures taken by shopkeepers to limit their losses amid sluggish sales, Tabib said that not much can be done, especially since offering substantial discounts on new clothing collections so early in the season is impossible.

In Mar Elias, over seven shops have recently gone out of business, many shopkeepers told The Daily Star.

The unrest across the country coupled with the volatile situation in neighboring Syria have dealt a severe blow to the tourism season this summer, and this naturally affected merchants who were desperate to improve sales during the Eid.

“Many more shop owners are considering going out of business, particularly newcomers to trade who cannot bear any losses. In our street the yearly lease can go up to $45,000 a year. This is unbearable even if your sales are somehow acceptable,” Tabib explained.

Adib Fadel, the owner of a shoe shop just across the street from Tabib’s store, echoed his neighbor’s views. “We barely have 10 or 20 percent of the usual Eid business this year,” he said.

“We received a ‘big gift’ for this Eid,” he said sarcastically, referring to the Ashrafieh explosion and the ensuing armed clashes in Beirut that took place within a stone’s throw from Fadel’s store.

“We do not have solutions. The solutions are in the hand of politicians who should calm down and let us breathe.”

Fadel said he depended on tourists for a big percentage of his business – 50 percent, he estimated.

“Lebanon has become some sort of an isolated island, and there were no tourists to bring in money to the markets,” he said. “Commerce here cannot survive without the money coming from outside.”

Among the so-called necessities for celebrating Eid al-Adha are traditional sweets, particularly Baklava and Maamoul. But even the owners of two patisseries say business is bad.

“Every Eid, people buy different types of sweets and many kilograms of each kind. Today they only buy a small amount of Maamoul or some of Baklava,” Mohammad Sharkawi said.

“Sales are at least 25 percent lower than [the same time] last year, which was already bad.”

A Corniche al-Mazraa shopper, who asked to be identified as Abu Ahmad, said he would only buy foodstuff and some sweets for the holidays.

“I will not even buy new clothes for the kids this year,” he said.

“What do you expect? We are still in shock [over the events of the past few days], and I have not been working since last month,” added Abu Ahmad, a plumbing contractor.

Across Corniche al-Mazraa, in Barbour’s marketplace, the situation is no better. “This is not an Eid at all. Sales in normal days are better and there is no improvement what so ever,” fabric shopowner Hussein Akkime said.

He said he had to shut his store for three days during the skirmishes between rival groups following Friday’s bomb blast that killed police intelligence chief Wissam al-Hasan.

Ahmad Saad, a shopper carrying his 2-year-old child, said the only reason they were in the market was to buy Eid al-Adha clothes for the toddler.

“Everything is different this Eid. Our economic condition is worse than ever, and the security conditions make you reluctant to spend any money,” Saad said. “But of course we cannot let children miss out on the joy of wearing the Eid clothes.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 25, 2012, on page 5.




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