Israel Reopens Businesses, but Owners Fear Collapse Amid Coronavirus Crisis

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Avi Amir’s salon, Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, april 27, 2020.
Avi Amir’s salon, Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, april 27, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Though many Tel Aviv businesses reopened on Sunday after almost six weeks of coronavirus lockdown, they remain in despair over their accumulated losses and the stringent restrictions that are still in place.

“This is the first time in 64 years that we’ve closed, and we don’t yet know where we’re going,” said Boaz Tragerman, co-owner of Café Mersand. “In another year, we may not be here.” Even if all restrictions were lifted tomorrow, he explained, the coronavirus has caused so much economic damage that “I don’t see how people will go back to eating in restaurants.”

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“There’s no chance I’ll be able to cover the hole,” agreed Herzl Nikanzar, who owns a stationary and photocopying shop, as he waited for customers. He also complained that the Health Ministry’s rules are unclear – a complaint echoed by many businesspeople.

Under those rules, restaurants can only provide takeout, while maintaining a two-meter distance between customers. In addition, workers must be on fixed shifts and wear masks and gloves. Stores and beauty parlors must take customers’ temperatures and ask if they have any coronavirus symptoms.

Herzl Nikanzar, the owner of a stationary and photocopying shop in Tel Aviv, April 26, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod

“At the moment, there’s almost no traffic; we’re not even at 10 percent of normal turnover,” said Tom Manis, who manages the Dizengoff Square branch of the Leggenda ice cream chain. All 17 of his workers remain on unpaid leave, “and we’ll bring them back only when there’s work.”

Business owners are also furious over the difficulty of getting financial help from the government.

Tom Manis, the manager of the Dizengoff Square branch of the Leggenda ice cream chain in Tel Aviv, April 26, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod

“What the state has given until now is peanuts,” Tragerman charged, adding that in addition to providing money, it should ease regulations.

“I expect the state to put its hand in its pocket and rescue businesses,” Manis agreed, saying that his business won’t survive without state aid.

By government order, open-air markets remain closed. Thus merchants in the Bezalel Market who tried to put their wares outside their stores encountered a battalion of inspectors demanding that they be brought back inside.

Boaz Tragerman, co-owner of Café Mersand in Tel Aviv, April 26, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod

“It’s quiet so far, there’s nothing to do,” said Nissim, who owns a housewares shop on Tel Aviv's King George Street. Nevertheless, he was optimistic. “I believe that in another week things will be okay, people will start going out,” he said.

At beauty parlors, customers were thrilled to be back. “I’ve been pounding on the window for two months,” model Alexa Dol said as she finally got her hair cut at Avi Amir’s salon on Dizengoff Street.

But Amir said that despite customer enthusiasm, the Health Ministry’s rules mean he can’t exceed 60 percent occupancy. “We’ll work harder and face a 40 percent loss,” he said. “But what can you do? We missed it.”

Sharon Konofany, who owns the Nook beauty parlor on King George Street, said the two months she was closed are normally among the busiest months of the year, leaving her with significant losses. But Sunday morning, she was as packed with customers as ministry regulations permit. Given those regulations, she’s still not sure it pays off to open.

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