Annahar is publishing a three-part series this Holiday season that covers the street-level economy: such as boutiques, hair salons, phone stores, gizmo shops, toy stores, mini-marts, and other small and medium shops.
The second part of the series will look into the consumer activity at Beirut’s many upscale, sprawling shopping malls, usually hubs of much buying activity this time of year.
Lastly in the series, is the enduring Lebanese tradition of family and friend feasting this time of year, wherein Annahar talks with families and others about their social plans at the table for Holiday 2019.
BEIRUT: What better place to start a holiday news report than at the retail stores of Beirut and its suburbs, with a visit from curbside and through the store aisles talking with owners and shoppers, for whom both the economic malaise has started to sink in.
A drive down any street retail district from Jal El Dib toward Downtown and Achrafieh, Hamra, Rouche, and Dahieh, does not reveal an economic doomsday just yet, but to extend the metaphor let’s say its 15 minutes to doomsday on the Holiday clock.
Most street retail business have banners and signs advertising 50 percent off or more, which is a good starting discount for the average shopper, but is it enough of a discount for shoppers who have received salary cuts, lost work, or are no matter what, making hard choices over what to buy for this usually festive season?
“I’m not only lacking in Holiday spirit, I’m actually in a rather bad mood,“ said Samir Kassab. “While I’m thankful that I even have work, my pay has been cut, I cannot get enough for expenses from my bank, and forget about gift shopping, I’m unmarried, but usually, I would get my nieces and nephews something cool.”
Adding, “This year, it might be something a little uncool.”
One PR professional who also recently had her first baby told Annahar, “I’m not in the mood at all, of course baby will get lots of nice things from me, Teta, Jeddo, and the rest of the family, but really no one is that festive this year.”
She said the malls are empty; there aren’t the usual street decorations in the different suburbs, “and we haven’t even put up a tree in my office yet.”
As a new mom, she noted that the price for all pediatric supplies at the pharmacy – diapers, formula, bottles – have gone up and in general inflation is hitting all her food shopping as well.
“It’s not a good situation!”
“I went to Spinney’s last weekend and there were various items out of stock and almost everything had increased by price between 20 to 30 percent,” said Ralph, who asked not to use his last name. “This inflation, of course, is hitting all the retail markets, places like Spinney’s or the average mini-mart everyone depends on for picking up groceries next to their house.”
At Lina’s coffee shop/eatery in Jal El Dib, there are a smattering of customers on a recent Saturday afternoon, more than many of the nearby boutique shops, but less than the usual burgeoning crowd meeting on weekends.
One gentlemen, having an expresso and happily smoking a Cohiba, noted archly that usually the Jal El Dib road is decked out with decorations this time of year in addition to the retail shops that in past years featured blinking colored lights, Santa, elves candy canes, and multicolored trees – this year, not so much, in fact hardly at all.
It’s obvious how slowed everything is, with a stuttering economy, stalled government and a totally dissatisfied Lebanese citizenry out demonstrating, he said.
“Like everyone else, I’ve had enough with problems year after year – power, expensive telecom, slow Internet, high prices – forget any Holiday spirit, I feel like finding a way out of here, (Lebanon) before it all comes crashing down.”
“My wife and I have agreed to get a joint family present for each other, thinking that’s as much in the spirit of the season as everything else, we thought a romantic dinner out Christmas eve, and then another romantic dinner out on New Year’s. So the only shopping we are doing is reservations for ourselves at out favorite places.”
He added, that when his wife Maria and himself are walking down local shopping avenues they pretty much ignore the shops, noting that actually they are happier anyway, not having the pressure of going on a retail shopping binge.
Beautician and hair salon owner Manal Zalzali told Annahar that she has witnessed a huge decrease in this year’s appointments for hair and make up for the New Year’s celebrations.
“By this time last year, I had already stopped taking in more appointments, because I had a full schedule ahead of me, right now I don’t have a single booking,” she stated.
In a time of potential shortages accompanied with prices on the rise in Lebanon, people haven’t been oblivious to the facts at stake. The general understanding of the average citizen is this: the domino effect of worst-case scenarios has certainly been at play in the recent circumstances.
A local mini-mart owner in Broumanna’s told Annahar that many people are taking strict measures in such circumstances, noting, “My market is selling half of what it used to sell.”
Walking down Hamra street, one might not be surprised that the once-bustling-street is now alarmingly uncrowded. Many stores and restaurants have closed down, in light of recent economic events.
Hair accessories shop owner, Ahmad Mneinmeh, who has owned the store in Hamra for over 10 years, assured Annahar that this period is the most distressing one his store had faced since it opened.
“I’m nowhere near bankruptcy, but I have been insomniac since the crisis took place. I’m afraid of what tomorrow brings,” he stated.
Mneimneh added that holiday celebrations are a big no-no for his family this year, as they can’t afford to spend one extra dime.
A local mini market perched on Hamra Street has the word “SALE,” plastered all over its front door.
Samih Raja, the owner expressed his sorrow over closing down his family business, and hastily trying to get rid of the products that no one is buying, before they expire.
“People aren’t buying except what they absolutely need. At this time last year my shop would have been bustling with people buying all sorts of food products in preparation for the holidays, but now it’s empty, except for the rare customer,” he said.
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