On Election Day, Israelis Vote With Their Wallets

Not even the greatest Israeli consumer holidays, like Passover and Rosh Hashanah, came even close to the streams of shoppers that flowed into cafes, clothing stores, supermarkets and movie theaters during Israel's elections on Tuesday.

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Israeli retailers say they can't remember the last time they had such a good reason to celebrate. Not even the greatest Israeli consumer holidays, like Passover and Rosh Hashanah, came even close to the streams of shoppers that flowed into cafes, clothing stores, supermarkets and movie theaters on Tuesday.

The brisk traffic is particularly welcome at this time of slow economic growth and consumers who are less than eager to open their wallets. It is somewhat ironic that on Election Day, the first since the 2011 social protests brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets in protest and changed their purchasing habits, the buyers were in a generous, spendthrift mood, perhaps in anticipation of a rosier future.

"It's a pity that every day isn't Election Day. All of our centers are extremely crowded, like the day before Pesach, when everyone comes to do their shopping," says Hay Galis, chief operating officer of Big Shopping Centers. "Only this time it's not only the stores that are full to bursting, it's also the cafes and the food courts. We forecast receipts at three or four times the daily average," Galis says.

"I closed parking lots in Rehovot, Petah Tikva and in Haifa in cooperation with the police because they were causing traffic jams, that never happened with the holidays," says Moshe Rosenblum, CEO of the Melisron shopping center group. "People didn't travel far from home, in order to make it back for the television broadcasts, and shopping malls are like the local community center," Rosenblum says, adding, "The chain stores had amazing discounts and it was a good day in terms of the weather," which was clear and very warm for late January.

Ofer Shechter is the CEO of Ariel Properties Promall Mall Management, which operates 35 commercial centers. He has been in the business for 25 years and says he cannot remember the last time there was something similar. "The weather caused everyone to leave their homes, all of the entertainment places are bursting and since 11 A.M. there hasn't been an open spot in any of our parking lots. In our Netanya property, Rogovin-Federman, we built a mountain from snow that we brought from the north, causing a traffic jam so big around the mall that the police had to block access to it. In the shopping centers that have movie theaters some films were sold out for part of the day, and there were long lines for the cafes and the restaurants, and no empty tables. People simply wanted to go out and waste money or time in some way," Shechter says.

He says the stores needed a really good shopping day to make up for a prolonged erosion of their profits. "In the past few months clothing sales have been good because of the winter, but overall sales are not up while at the same time expenses have increased, reducing profitability. January and February are always the slowest months of the year - there are no holidays, profitability is low because items are sold at end-of-season prices, the new collections haven't come in yet, the weather is problematic - so Election Day was important to businesses, especially now," Shechter says.

While many retailers may be raking it in at the registers, there is also a downside for some business owners. "The massive activity in the malls began mainly at around 11 A.M. or noon because people slept in and then went to vote, so up until then you paid employees double-time" because Election Day is a legal holiday, "and you lost money in the end," said a senior executive in one of Israel's major cafe chains. "In my opinion, by the evening we'll have takings of a good Friday, or a rainy day that causes people to go to the mall, and at the same time we paid our workers double, so the bottom line comes out lower on Election Day," he explains.

Shoppers packing the Azrieli Center mall in Tel Aviv.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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