‘We’re Alone in This War’: Desperate Businesses Fear Collapse as New Coronavirus Rules Force Them to Close Again

Business owners nationwide are desperate and confused about the new rules, and don't see how they can survive a second shutdown

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Gerik Stolin and Alexander Stoknov put the equipment from their gym in Kiryat Shmona into a warehouse because they can no longer afford the businesses' rent, July 7, 2020
Gerik Stolin and Alexander Stoknov put the equipment from their gym in Kiryat Shmona into a warehouse because they can no longer afford the businesses' rent, July 7, 2020 Credit: Rami Shllush
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

As Israel was hit by the second wave of the coronavirus, Yaron Cohen realized he needed to rebrand his CrossFit gym in Beit She’an.

“Guys, we aren’t closing!” he declared on the gym’s Facebook page on Tuesday morning. “Unfortunately, due to a cabinet decision that hasn’t yet been approved, it seems the health club won’t continue to operate in its current format. Nevertheless, since it’s possible to hold Torah classes with up to 19 people, the venue has switched to giving Torah classes.

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“Our Torah is CrossFit, our God is the god of physical fitness, our faith is that physical fitness contributes to physical and mental health,” he wrote. “Register for classes via the app. Let’s spread the Torah.”

Cohen told Haaretz he isn’t “anti-religion” but is simply protesting the government’s “irrational” decisions. A supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party for 25 years, he has lost faith in Netanyahu over the coronavirus crisis. He said he did close the gym during the first wave of the virus, but received only 3,000 shekels ($870) in compensation for the two months it was closed.

“I’m only now starting to repay my debts from then,” he added. “If I don’t see money, a promise – something – I’m not closing [again].”

Gerik Stolin and Alexander Stoknov's gym in Kiryat Shmona, July 7, 2020
Gerik Stolin and Alexander Stoknov's gym in Kiryat Shmona, July 7, 2020Credit: Rami Shllush

Businesspeople nationwide are desperate and confused over the new rules, which have shut down some business such as pubs and gyms, and restricted others. They don’t see how they can survive a second shutdown.

Zohar Niv, a DJ and co-owner of the Beit Hamarzeach pub and nightclub in Ramat Yishai in northern Israel, was preparing to shut it down for the second time on Tuesday morning. He started at the bank, requesting a government-guaranteed loan for businesses that can’t get regular loans because they’re at risk of failing. Then he went to the pub to turn off the electricity, empty the trash and lock up.

Nearly 30 kegs of beer that had already been tapped went down the drain. “I wanted to open the pub and invite anyone who wanted to come to drink for free so hundreds of liters wouldn’t be poured out, but I understood that the rules were already in force,” he said.

He also had to return money to customers who bought tickets for a show that had already been postponed twice due to the virus.

During the first lockdown, Niv raised money to tide the club over through a crowdfunding campaign. Anyone who believed the government’s promises of grants for businesses hurt by the virus has already closed permanently, he said bitterly. “We’re alone in this war; since March, there’s been nobody for me to talk to.”

His business partner, Adi Aba, saw which way the wind was blowing. Toward the end of the first lockdown, he opened a new business – building and selling furniture, decks and pergolas. Now, after 11 years as the pub’s owner, Nir realizes that he too needs to find other work, at least temporarily.

Gerik Stolin and Alexander Stoknov spent Tuesday morning warehousing the equipment from their gym in Kiryat Shmona because they can no longer afford the rent for the space. Just last December, they bought 200,000 shekels ($58,000) worth of new equipment on an installment plan, and they have no idea how they’ll manage the remaining payments.

For the first lockdown, they received 17,000 shekels ($5000) in compensation, which wasn’t enough to cover their expenses.

“Apparently, this is the end of our business,” Stolin said in despair. “The business is four years old and was constantly growing. In our four years of operation, we never bounced a check.”

He doesn’t understand why he has to close again when his gym complied with all the rules for reopening. “We were strict on social distancing,” he said. “I have 300 square meters of space and we’d let in 30 people.”

Even businesses permitted to stay open with restrictions aren’t sure how they’ll survive. David Mizrahi, who runs a Café Café franchise in Sde Trumot on Route 90 said that before the coronavirus, he was normally so busy he didn’t have time to answer the phone. Tuesday morning, you could count the number of patrons on one hand.

The new rules allow a maximum of 20 people in eateries at a time, which isn’t enough to cover expenses, he said. “It’s a death sentence for the entire industry.”

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