Desperate Israeli retailers ignore lockdown, but customers don’t come

Small business owners desperate over “catastrophic situation” as health, finance ministers squabble publicly over failure to ease lockdown for stores.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Some street shop owners said they will violate coronavirus lockdown orders and open their stores as Israeli politicians argued publicly about when to allow a wider reopening of the embattled retail sector that is reeling from the pandemic.

“We sit on goods worth millions of shekels,” a Tel Aviv clothing store owner named Moshe told Channel 12. “We have nothing to do with them. It’s merchandise, it’s fashion, it’s things that change. We can no longer endure, and no one understands us.”

Moshe slammed the government for allowing supermarkets, pharmacies and some other retailers to remain open where “hundreds of people can be crowded,” yet forcing shopping malls and small stores to stay closed.

The frustrated owner showed a storeroom full of merchandise he said was worth millions of shekels of seasonal goods that “we have no one to sell them to,” saying he decided to violate the coronavirus lockdown and open his store because “we have no choice – we sell to those who come.”

However, with the Health Ministry pushing its lockdown message on television and social media, many store owners found that despite risking a 5,000 shekel ($1700) fine for opening illegally, customers were simply not coming.

“I come every day for an hour or two just to get out of the house, open an hour or two to see what’s there and come home,” said fashion store owner Yoram Hassidim. “Basically there are no customers, no one comes and no one wants.”

Hassidim said if the closure continues, retail stores will soon collapse financially and close permanently. “In another month or two, there will be no one here,” Hassidim said. “If you do a tour of Jaffa, Tel Aviv, you will see maybe over 70 percent of the shops for rent.”

“It’s time for a decision on opening street stores,” Finance Minister Yisrael Katz said on Instagram. “The need and justification exist and are reasonable because morbidity is also decreasing,” a factor that led to easing of restrictions this week.

Katz lashed out at Health Minister Yuli Edelstein’s insistence on keeping stores closed for another week, saying it was “unnecessary, lacks a factual basis and leads to anarchy and lack of supervision, which will only increase morbidity.”

Edelstein replied with an angry announcement, calling Katz’s demand “reckless” and saying it would only lead to “further closure and economic, social and health disaster.”

“I understand the plight of store owners. It is our duty to help them and provide them with an economic safety net,” Edelstein said, throwing the hot potato back to his cabinet colleague. “Keep in mind that a quick opening now means another closure later. Complacency will eventually lead to a death sentence for many businesses.”