BEIRUT: “Do you really love her?” asks a Lebanese advert carried on TV and Twitter in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. If so, it challenges, head to Beirut’s troubled southern suburbs and show your feelings by buying her a flower from Haret Hreik. After two suicide car bomb attacks just weeks apart in January, the usually busy residential neighborhood of Haret Hreik has suddenly become synonymous with violence, death and danger. Checkpoints erected in the area add to a sense of heightened security, and make traveling to the neighborhood a lengthy and difficult process.
But at Flower Town, the small Sfeir flower shop chosen to be the face of the campaign, business is booming.
Trampling over a layer of discarded foliage, by early evening Friday a crowd of men and women are still jostling to place orders for their various Valentines.
“We’ve had to restock three times today,” says Majida Fawwaz, one of three sisters who run the shop in the Haret Hreik municipality. “Our sales are up by around 30 percent this year because of that advert.”
She grabs a sheet of red tissue paper and deftly wraps up a handful of scarlet tulips, lilies and branches of blood red berries. She adds the finishing touch – a green sticker with the shop’s name and the slogan, “I would die for you” – before handing the bundle to a woman in a bright green hijab.
“And thank God,” she adds, as she begins on the next order, “because all the businesses around here have been paralyzed by the explosions.”
Done in cooperation with a PR firm called Impact BBDO, the idea for the advertising campaign is to encourage people to overcome their fear of going to Beirut’s southern suburbs and return once again to the shops, restaurants and other businesses that desperately need their customers.
“People have come from Batroun, Koura, all parts of Beirut,” Sara Fawwaz says as she pins a red teddy bear to the outside of a bouquet of roses. “We’ve had lots of people come on top of our regular customers, and all of them mention the advert.”
Clutching an enormous bunch of lilies, carnations, anthuriums and irises with a shiny heart-shaped balloon poking out of the top, Zahra from Tariq al-Jadideh explains that she came to get a present for her husband after she saw the advert on TV.
“I’m ready to sacrifice for my beloved,” she says with a smile, echoing the motto that has appeared in the broadcast campaign.
Unlike most of the customers who leave the shop with giant, lurid bouquets, Elie Kettaneh is only buying three flowers: a rose each for his girlfriend of 40 years, his mother’s grave and his disabled sister.
“I’m ready to die for my beloved,” he agrees.
When asked whether the attacks in Beirut’s southern suburbs have made him afraid of going to the area, he just laughs. “Why would I be?”