Friday, December 22, 2006

Downtown sit-in hits retailers across capital

Downtown sit-in hits retailers across capital
Local customers are too nervous to spend much - and 'there are no tourists'

By Michael Bluhm
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Presents under Lebanese Christmas trees this year could be a little scarce, judging by sales in major Beirut shopping districts. Retailers in Verdun, Hamra and Achrafieh told The Daily Star Thursday that sales had plummeted compared to last year's holiday season, with nearly all stores reporting a drop of more than 50 percent. The holiday malaise has infected vendors regardless of their wares - from toys to electronics, from clothing to carpets; their cash registers are just not ringing. "This is the climax of our work, supposedly, but however, due to the political situation, work is not going so well," said Khalil Hassoun of the Amichi clothing store in Verdun. "The economy's terrible right now," he added. Some retailers complain that the ongoing Downtown sit-in, which began December 1, has scared away shoppers. "Especially here in Hamra, we're near the Downtown," said Sevag Seferian of the Golden Crown clothing boutique. Receipts there were down about 70 percent from last year at this time. "It was better last year," he told The Daily Star. "It's a big difference."

While some shoppers steer clear of the neighborhoods close to the opposition demonstration, others have put away their wallets because of uncertainty how this round of political infighting will turn out. "People are kind of afraid of buying things," said Mohammad Moabi of Radio Shack in Hamra, estimating that income was down two-thirds from 2005's holidays. The holiday shopping crowd is also missing its traditional, injection of tourists, another casualty of the political chaos. Hotels vacancies are higher than usual, and incoming flights are bringing mostly Lebanese expatriates home for the holidays."There are no tourists," said Jean Mansour of the Houdoum men's clothing store at ABC mall in Achrafieh, where revenues are down about 60 percent. "Last year was very crowded." Sales collapsed almost to nothing in the days after the sit-in began, but some stores reported a slight bump in customer traffic in the past few days thanks to last-minute Christmas shoppers. A number of stores slashed prices not for the holidays, but because the disintegrating political scene has damaged business so gravely. "We're probably giving a little more on the discounts than we usually do, instead of waiting till after Christmas," said Youmna Asseily of Domtex in Hamra, where sales have fallen 50 percent despite the introduction of new goods brought in just to stir additional interest.

Some retailers are suffering more because this is their high season - for example, winter is the peak time to buy carpets and ski gear, but Kawtharani carpet store in Verdun and Sports Experts in ABC have not enjoyed their annual sales spikes. Merchants have been reeling since the July-August war with Israel, and some recalled that last year's Christmas was weaker than usual because Gebran Tueni was assassinated on December 12. Retailers expressed doubt that any store was prospering, and some still held out hope for a sales boom in the final days before Christmas. A couple of merchants said their expectations for the season were so low that they were thrilled by the feeble sales they were making. "In spite of all this mess, it's much better than we were expecting," said Karam al-Hariri at Sony World in ABC.

No comments:

Naharnet Lebanon News

Marketing in Lebanon