Walking down the normally bustling Ben-Yehuda Street, one finds the heart of Jerusalem uncannily empty (and security out in force).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
As Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the Finance Ministry wrangle over the allocation of emergency funding for the capital’s businesses hard hit by the ongoing wave of terrorism, store owners uniformly expressed urgent need for aid.
Indeed, businesses offering a broad range of wares and services expressed dire concern after nearly two months of losses that, in some cases, are as high as 70 percent of normal revenue.
Ilan Ben-Harosh, owner of the normally bustling Jaffa Road electronics shop, Mister Electric, on Thursday said the government has abdicated its fiscal responsibility during a major crisis.
“Every once in a while we [business owners] are suffering badly from the lack of customers, and this is the time that the Israeli government should get their hands in their pockets and get us something that we can survive with,” said Ben-Harosh.
“I’m not saying this is a complete catastrophe, but I can tell you that a lot of my friends have just fired a lot of employees in Jerusalem. And I’m not talking about major companies with 200 employees; I’m talking about small businesses like my own.
“Walk down the street, wherever you go you will see suffering,” he continued. They want help, but the Israeli government is putting up obstacles.”
Moreover, Ben-Harosh said he is having difficulty taking out an emergency loan from his bank.
“Just this morning I was in the bank and I tried to get a NIS 200,000 loan, and the manager told me he wants prime interest, which is about 1.5%, plus 4.6% interest,” he said. “So, we’re talking about approximately 6% interest. Now, you tell me: How can it be that the Israeli government will not help us?”
Noting that the county’s central bank lends money to banks at 0.2% interest annually, Ben-Harosh said the banks are ostensibly price gouging beleaguered businesses.
“The government needs to provide us with a solution where we are charged less than the prime rate,” he said. “Even by charging 1% interest, it gives the banks five times more profit than what they pay.”
Natan El, who manages the optical shop XRay on the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall, said that since October, sales have dropped by more than 50%.
“It’s bad, really bad,” he said. “All the stores need help.”
Asked how much longer his store could survive in the present economic climate, El estimated two more months.
“We need the help now,” he said.
Meanwhile, Guy Mintz, who six months ago opened the Ben Hillel Boutique Hotel, located on Ben-Hillel Road, said his profits are down by 70%.
“The first four months were good, very good,” he said of his primarily international clientele. “And then, boom! Everything went down.”
In terms of Barkat’s battle with the Finance Ministry over emergency funds, Mintz said the impasse is unacceptable during such a precarious time.
“I’ve never seen it this bad this long, not even during the war last summer,” he said. “It’s bad. We need the money.”
Even franchises from otherwise strong performing national chains have not been spared the downturn, said the manager of the high-end clothing store Polygat, off Jaffa Road.
“Sales are down 40-50%,” she said, requesting her name not be published. “November is just as bad as October was.”
Citing the urgency of the funding, on Thursday Barkat took Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to task for practicing “petty politics.”
“Kahlon is trying to make this a personal fight, but the expectation of the minister of finance is to strengthen Jerusalem, especially at this time,” he added.
“This is nothing personal, it’s a national need that all state residents expect,” the mayor said.