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City Centre shop owners seek relief from economic downturn

A delegation of business owners from City Centre discuss economic difficulties with Nahas and Choukeir.

BEIRUT: A group of franchise operators joined Wednesday other private sector bodies in sounding the alarm over slowing business activity due to political and security turmoil. The deteriorating economy has pushed a group of franchise operators at Beirut City Centre, a major shopping mall that opened recently in the Hazmieh suburb, to seek help from government officials.

A delegation of businessmen, who recently invested in shops at the mall, Wednesday visited caretaker Economy Minister Nicolas Nahas and the head of the Chamber of Commerce, Mohammad Choukeir.

“The delegation discussed the difficulties facing the operators of franchises and tenants at the mall and has asked the ministry to help figure out solutions needed to guarantee the continuity of businesses,” Nahas said following the meeting.

Head of the Lebanese Franchise Association Charles Arbid, who led the delegation, told The Daily Star that the two sides looked into ways to alleviate burdens amid lower business volumes.

“We are working with all sides with a spirit of cooperation to put things back on track and make the retail industry more resilient,” he said. “The situation is difficult and exceptional.”

Choukeir said the chamber would work with the mall’s management to “reach a just solution at minimum losses and preserve businesses to the benefit of the Lebanese economy,” a statement by the group said.

Suleiman Mallat, senior mall manager at Majid Al Futtaim – the operator of City Centre – told The Daily Star that the mall was boosting its marketing plans to attract additional traffic to the property.

He said that the majority of retailers at the mall had been reporting good performance with many achieving excellent sales.

“Some retail[er]s might not be performing as expected because these have new products that need to boost brand awareness in the Lebanese market,” he told The Daily Star.

The mall so far has no plans to reconsider rental fees, which he said were benchmarked at the market level.

Earlier in the day, Adnan Kassar, the head of the Economic Committees, a group representing the private sector, called for an urgent meeting Monday to discuss means to prop up Lebanon’s ailing economy.

“The purpose of the meeting, which comes at these exceptional conditions ... is to come up with solutions needed to protect and reinforce what is left of the national economy,” Kassar said.

Government officials including the finance and economy ministers as well as the Central Bank governor held talks earlier this week with representatives of the Economic Committees and agreed to follow up on efforts to prevent an economic collapse.

“The Economic Committees and the Lebanese private sector will continue upholding their role and will not allow, under any circumstances, that the economy pays the bill of domestic political bickering,” Kassar said in a statement.

The deteriorating economic conditions have been weighing particularly heavily on the retail sector.

Nicolas Chammas, head of the Beirut Traders Association, told The Daily Star earlier this week that a leading retail index due to be released soon showed an 11.5 percent decline in the second quarter of 2013.

The Chamber of Commerce also announced Wednesday a billboard ad campaign aimed at “supporting the economy and rejecting [civil] war.”

“Our national and economic duty necessitates raising our voices through all available tools to avert the country plunging into uncertainty,” a statement said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 22, 2013, on page 5.

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