Shopping capital

Jerusalem becomes home to Hamashbir's flagship store; King George Avenue location to house Office Depot and two of the companies' outlets.

Hamashbir 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Hamashbir 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The first Hamashbir Lazarchan department store opened in Zion Square in May 1947. On Tuesday, 64 years and six months later, the 38th store in the chain opened almost exactly across the road, 100 meters away from the original store, thereby coming full circle.
The new seven-story store, the largest department store in Israel, is the company’s flagship store and can compare favorably with its European counterparts in the range and quality of merchandise as well as in price.
The top floor, which is not yet open, will become a dairy coffee shop operated by the Ohana Brothers, who run Café Mamilla.
“When we came here to look at the site four years ago,” said Hamashbir CEO Assaf Ben-Dov at the opening, “we needed a lot of vision and faith to take the risk. Jaffa Road was being excavated for the light rail system. Shops were closing down. The whole area was becoming a ghost town. People told us we were mad to go into a new venture here, but together with British Israel [Investments] we decided to go ahead.”
It was important to have the flagship store in Jerusalem, Ben-Dov explained, because in common with other major department stores around the world, Hamashbir wanted to have its flagship in the nation’s capital.
The total investment in construction was NIS 125 million, of which NIS 30m. was invested by Hamashbir and the remainder by British Israel, which specializes in building malls and department stores. British Israel owns the building, for which Hamashbir has signed a 24-year lease.
Uniformed sales staff told reporters that Jerusalemites had been trying to get into the building all week. As soon as they saw merchandise being moved in, they wanted to come in and see what was happening. There was a larger crowd trying to get in as journalists were admitted to the press conference, but the major push was in the afternoon for the official opening in which Hamashbir invested NIS 1.5m., with a red-carpet entrance, actors dressed in British period costume and musicians playing vintage pop songs, many with a British flavor.
As luck would have it, there was a power failure just as the journalists were permitted inside the premises to look around.
Instead of using the escalators or the glass window elevators, they had to walk. Some started in the basement area where there is an extensive menswear department with both casual and formal attire, while the more adventurous newshounds climbed several flights of stairs. By the time they came down, the escalators were working.
The displays on each floor are far more elegant and extensive than in the store at the King George Avenue location. The clothes in the women’s section are definitely more fashionable, and there’s a much wider range of choice and a nice footwear department as well. Prices are quite reasonable.
The housewares department also has a lot more to offer than on King George Avenue and is much better laid out.
The ground floor is devoted to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
The big question that everyone had is what’s going to happen to the King George store, which was opened in 1970.
It’s not going to close, but it’s not going to be a regular Hamashbir department store either.
According to Ben-Dov, it will house a branch of Office Depot plus two Hamashbir sections – both outlet stores – one for electrical goods and one for clothing and textiles. The supermarket, which is not part of Hamashbir, will continue to function.
Although the building belongs to Hachsharat Hayishuv and was never owned by Hamashbir, it was always identified as Hamashbir and for bus passengers seeking to disembark near the Ben- Yehuda pedestrian mall, it will continue to be for a long time.