Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Warm weather brings weekend reprieve to hard-hit Downtown businesses

Warm weather brings weekend reprieve to hard-hit Downtown businesses
By James Farha
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Full restaurants and lively sidewalks greeted businesses in Downtown Beirut for the second Sunday in a row over the weekend as temperatures hovered at 35 degrees for two days running. "Business has been up at the weekend for two weeks now, it's very good," said Talal, host at Scoozi Italian Restaurant, just meters away from the opposition encampment. "We still only open for half of the week but at the weekend we can get 110 customers for lunch. Still, during the week we may only get 10," he said at the end of a busy lunchtime shift.

In the Place de L'Etoile, young families played with toys and scooters while others took shelter in the shade of the clock tower and surrounding trees. The Cafe Al-Saa was packed with families, and young people basked in the sunshine as others kicked a football or strolled beneath a blue sky and a drifting Lebanese flag. Opinion as to the cause of the increase in business remained divided, although all agreed that the turn in the weather was helping. "Obviously the number of people is related to the weather and the season," said one Downtown visitor, who wished to remain anonymous. "People don't want to sit outside in cafes in the winter, but people aren't returning just because of the weather." Talal said the area had seen no commotion despite the ongoing opposition sit-in. "There are no problems of security from up there [nodding toward the sit-in] or down there," he said, although he maintained that the upward trend in sales was attributable to the favorable temperatures.

Another man, speaking anonymously, recalled how busy the streets had been before the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. "It is definitely better than it was a month or so ago but it is still nothing compared to before Hariri's death," he said. "For a long time people have not been coming because of fear of the general political situation, not just because of the opposition." Dotted among the Sunday afternoon revelers was the usual guard of Lebanese Army troops. "They are not just symbolic, they are always here," the man said. "They are protecting the Parliament building." Opposition supporters, who have been encamped in the Downtown area since December, are demanding a more representative national unity government and early elections. The demands have gone unmet, but in the months since January's street clashes, a peace and relative stability has been restored to the capital, and business is slowly returning to the once-bustling Downtown district. "It is better than it was a month or two months ago but it is still very light today and we are only busy at lunchtimes.," said Naseer Hassan, a waiter at the Petit Cafe, with a cautious optimism. "Hopefully, it's getting better bit by bit."

No comments:

Naharnet Lebanon News


Marketing in Lebanon