Two months after Israel’s third lockdown, shoppers have returned in full force to Israel’s malls and markets.
At Jerusalem’s Hadar Mall, “shoppers have returned to 100% of pre-pandemic levels,” said the mall’s CEO, Liron Elkayam.
“We are experiencing great interest, and turnover before the Passover holiday was even a bit higher than in previous years due to the pent-up demand,” he said. “We did a big campaign before the holiday to celebrate our return, and people responded.
“We continue to maintain the safety standards of the Purple Ribbon requirements, and people say they feel safe. Sales are up, and store owners are happy to be back in their routines. My colleagues in other malls are saying the same thing.”
Israel began coming out of its third lockdown on February 7, concluding what had been a very dark period for merchants and restaurant owners who were barred frequently from opening over the past year. Israel’s coronavirus infection and fatality numbers have now been steadily declining for several weeks in the wake of the country’s aggressive vaccination campaigns.
Open markets, such as Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda, have been “full of shoppers day and night, just like before the pandemic,” said Tali Friedman, head of the Mahaneh Yehuda Merchants Association, as well as head of the association for all Israeli shuks (outdoor markets).
“We are not at 100% because we are still missing the foreign tourists, who have always been a large source of revenue,” she said. “But internal tourism to Jerusalem has increased somewhat, so I would say we are at about 70 to 80 percent capacity.”
As of a few days ago, the shuk was no longer required to have someone take people’s temperatures as they enter, and the merchants are optimistic about the rapid return to life, Friedman said.
However, “the merchants can’t easily forget the challenges of the past year, when they were badly hurt by government discrimination against them, while large supermarkets were allowed to remain open,” she said.
The biggest challenge facing shop owners is the lack of manpower, Friedman said.
“Not everyone has returned to the workforce, with many choosing to continue receiving government unemployment benefits, and it is very hard to find and hire people,” she said. “A lot of the people who apply for jobs now say they want to be paid under the table, so they can continue receiving benefits.
“These are critical days for employers. It is important for people to remember that many business owners have learned during the past year to work with a leaner workforce, so it is likely that when more people decide to return to work, they will find they don’t have a place to return to.”
Friedman expressed gratitude to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and the municipality for working hard to strengthen the shuk. But she said the multiyear trend of more restaurants and pubs opening in Mahaneh Yehuda accelerated during the pandemic at the expense of the traditional small shops.
“Most vegetable sellers seem to have been able to weather the pandemic,” Friedman said. “But many specialty stores, like spice sellers, suffered more and closed. It is good that more nightlife is being added to the shuk, but we need to preserve our day businesses as well.”