Stores Are Allowed to Reopen – But Will They?

YERUSHALAYIM -
A general view shows the empty parking lot of a mall in Yerushalayim. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

New rules easing quarantine restrictions approved early Sunday by the government allow a wide range of businesses to reopen – but at least some of the chains that are allowed to open won’t be doing so. Business daily TheMarker quoted a number of owners of chain stores as saying that the partial openings, coupled with the restrictions on how many customers could be served, didn’t make it worthwhile for them to reopen.

Among those chains is Tzomet Sfarim, which, as a purveyor of books, can reopen beginning Sunday. But company CEO Avi Schumer said that the stores would remain closed. “Reopening the stores with the current conditions of limited customer engagement and movement is technically impossible. Opening under these conditions would be economic suicide,” he said.

Under the new rules, many stores will be allowed to open beginning Sunday, including electronics, communications, housewares, bookstores, sporting goods, and furniture stores – but staff in the store and customers will have to keep rules regarding social distancing. Wearing masks will remain a requirement, and customers will have their temperature taken when walking into a store. The number of people in a store at one time will be limited, and stores are responsible to ensure that their staff are healthy.

Among the stores that can reopen are those that supply eyeglasses and contact lenses, but Yaakov Halperin, CEO of Israel’s large Halperin optical chain, said that he was not planning on reopening any stores that had not been operating before Sunday’s decision. A limited number of the the chain’s many stores remained open in order to provide emergency service.

But Halperin does not plan to open other branches of the chain, he told TheMarker, “unless I get some compensation for the month and a half I was closed in the form of a grant or low-interest loan. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that we could reopen now, but that stores could be required to close again in another week or two if the situation deteriorates. I can’t work like this. Just turning on the lights in the stores costs me NIS 400,000 a day. ‘Opening’ means bringing in workers, paying for electricity, rent, and a dozen other things, not including advertising and marketing.

“In addition, 70% of my workforce is age 60 and above,” a group that the Health Ministry recommends remain at home, “and 70% of my sales are ‘impulse purchases’ that people make when they are in a good mood. Obviously people are not in a mood to make those kinds of purchases now.”

Among the stores that have not received permits to reopen are clothing and fashion stores. While many of these are inside malls – which remain closed for the time being – stores located in open-air shopping centers or city streets will remain closed. A coalition of fashion-store owners said Sunday that it plans to mount protests citing discriminated against them, demanding that they, too, be allowed to reopen.