Retail leaders say new restrictions bad for business

Several heads of national retail chains call limited easing of workplace restrictions a joke, slam new conditions saying it might not make economic sense for them to open their doors.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Several prominent business owners lashed out at Israel’s government Sunday, saying the announced easing of health restrictions were a joke and it might not even be worth it for them to open their doors.

With the economy being choked and over a million Israelis thrown out of work because of closures imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the government announced a series of changes allowing more stores to open and more workers to get to their jobs. However, owners of large chain stores said the announced changes were just making the situation worse, Channel 12 reported.

The new rules will allow some 10,000 stores to reopen on Monday, but also specify stringent guidelines. Those rules include allowing only two customers per 100 square meters of floor space, mandating retailers install physical partitions at every cashier and hiring or appointing an employee as the “corona manager” to enforce the new health guidelines. 

“You made us laugh,” said Avi Schumer, CEO of Tzomet Sfarim, a nationwide chain of almost 100 book stores and a major employer. Schumer said it would cost him 100,000 shekels ($28,000) in renovations per store to install safety barriers at checkout counters. With most of his stores only 100 square meters big, Schumer said customers would not wait if only allow two were allowed in the store at a time.

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“It is not at all certain that it is economical to return to work,” Schumer said. “The guidelines don’t really allow commerce to get back to business, leaving most of our 750 employees and hundreds of thousands of employees of other chains at home.”

The head of Falafel Squared, a fast food chain with 30 stores, said it made no sense for him to open if he had to hire more employees simply to enforce the health regulations.

“We cannot open yet, there is no logic in the guidelines,” Guy Yakar told Channel 12. “To increase our expenses while (we are) anticipating only 30 percent of sales – the new restrictions will only deepen the hole.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been scrambling to provide relief for the economy as unemployment soared past 25 percent. The finance ministry is still working out the details of a multi-billion dollar assistance package for large employers, refunding tax prepayments, and a series of low interest loans and grants for small and medium sized enterprises.

The key problem facing the government is how to gradually open up the economy and get people back to work, while preventing further exponential outbreaks of the coronavirus that could potentially overwhelm the healthcare system.