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French Version


Chouf merchants feel bite of national economic slump

Although many reports on the economic impact of the current political deadlock in Lebanon have focused on loss of business in the heart of the capital, commercial centers in areas outside Beirut, such as the Chouf region, have been reporting customer-flow problems of their own.

"This year's turnout is really weak compared to previous years," one Chouf merchant told The Daily Star Monday.

"Political tensions, in addition to bad weather conditions during the holiday season, have all contributed to amplify our losses," he said.

The popular Bikaata, Simqanieh and Baaqlin commercial centers in the Chouf were almost devoid of customers on a recent weekday visit. Shopkeepers and merchants sit surrounded by wares in addition to colorful promotion banners and posters, waiting for someone to drop in.

"I've grown very fond of my stock after having spent so many hours alone with it," joked a shopowner in Simqanieh. "I'm thinking of writing a passionate love sonnet for it."

The owner of the well-established "Mahmoud Abou Ali's Commercial Company" said that in previous years, he did not have to go to any extra lengths to attract customers.

"This year it's all different," Abou Ali said. "Attractive promotion packages and radio advertisements are all failing to bear fruit."

Local radio stations in the Chouf broadcast round-the-clock advertisements, urging listeners to "rush to the Chouf's commercial centers and benefit from the many promotions before stocks expire."

Youths cashing in on the bargain by distributing pamphlets and brochures advertising for various Chouf outlets were the major cause of congestion on the roads and boulevards on a recent visit - not shoppers.

But because residents of the Chouf, like most Lebanese, are facing difficult financial times, such campaigns have little impact. Shoppers seem to be sticking to basic needs such as food and clothing.

The area's commercial centers have resorted to clearance sales in an attempt to compensate their losses.

The Bikaata Traders' Association, organizer of the perennial Bikaata shopping festival, had to cancel the festival this year because the political situation was "unstable."

The association's president, Hikmat Zebian, said that the Lebanese were depressed from both the political economic situation and were not in the mood for partying or shopping.

"We had a great number of creative ideas for this year's festival, which unfortunately did not materialize," Zebian said.

Beirut 16-01-2007
Maher Zeineddine
The Daily Star



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