As Israeli Retail Chains Negotiate Reopening, Small Businesses Protest in Despair

Government is unfairly favoring biggest retailers, small business owners say, as chain stores sit down with executive while mom-and-pop store shutters stay down, for many permanently

Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane
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Small businesses closed during the coronavirus crisis, Jerusalem, 2020.
Small businesses closed during the coronavirus crisis, Jerusalem, 2020.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane

The Association of Retail, Fashion and Restaurant Chains, which represents Israel’s biggest retailers and shopping malls, withdrew Thursday their threat to reopen businesses next week in defiance of the lockdown after the government agreed to negotiate.

Meanwhile, owners of small businesses demonstrated on Jaffa Road in Tel Aviv to protest against the damage caused by the lockdown. Scores of demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans and set fire to merchandise they had thrown into the street.

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“We’re calling on Bibi not to throw us into the street like that," said Ilan Dayan, who owns a small South Tel Aviv boutique and helped organize the protest, using a nickname for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We have taken out loans and owe money that we can’t repay with the ridiculous amount of aid we’ve gotten from the government. We can’t afford to feed our families.”

The protest came as the coronavirus cabinet approved several measures to ease the lockdown, pending a vote of the full cabinet. Among other things, restaurants will be able to offer take-out services from their premises and businesses that are not public-facing can reopen. The changes won’t affect retailers.

Although the Israel Tax Authority says the number of closed businesses is actually smaller this year than in 2019, the business research firm CofaceBDI estimated that there has been a 52% increase in the number of businesses with no activity that will not resume operations once the pandemic passes.

Dayan complained that big retailers and mall operators were able to get the government’s ear, as opposed to smaller shops, which, he argues, pose a smaller risk of spreading infection. Most serve one or two customers at a time, he said, and are on the street rather than in an enclosed space like a malls.

Roi Cohen, the president of Lahav, the Israel Chamber of Independent Organizations and Businesses, said it made no sense to keep businesses closed in so-called 'green' cities with low infection rates.

A store conspicuously opened during the lockdown on Ibn Gvirol street, Tel Aviv, October 13, 2020.Credit: Eyal Toueg

“If 60% of Israel is green, why do we need to close down everyone and cause all these businesses to collapse?” Cohen said at the protest. “These people have no money to bring home to their families. Israel must end the collective punishment of a total lockdown.”

This week Lahav, which has 400 corporate members with a combined 18,000 outlets, announced that the chains planned to reopen Sunday – including stores in malls. That’s long before the November 15 date tentatively set for ending restrictions on stores and November 29 for restaurants and cafes.

Among the chains belonging to the association are Israel’s biggest – Fox Group, Castro-Hoodies, Brill, Renuar and Tzomet Sfarim.

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