Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Collateral damage

Downtown shops once again suffer amid ongoing protests and sit-ins, reports Ahmed Kotb

Shops
Shops
Al-Ahram Weekly

Owners of downtown stores, which are normally crammed with people, are complaining about how their businesses are currently experiencing one of the worst downturns since the early days of the 25 January Revolution.
Several stores in the streets nearby Tahrir Square, such as Talaat Harb, and Bab Al-Louk, are currently open even during mass protests, which they seem to be coping with. However, the problem lies in the scarcity of customers.
“I had to open my store last Tuesday and Friday during the million-man protests in Tahrir Square despite the possibility of sudden riot,” says Mustafa Imam, an owner of a shoe shop in Talaat Harb Street, adding that he is willing to take the risk of opening his shop at such times in search of customers. “How can I pay my employees if there is no one to buy my products?” he asked.
Imam pointed out that business has been slow since the events of the revolution last year because customers are wary of theft, and foreigners stopped visiting the square and surrounding streets.
Similarly, another shop owner agrees that mass protests no longer force him to close down his shop. “All shops in the streets near Tahrir Square used to close down once they know there will be protests because of the clashes with the security forces and the tear gas fired,” Mahmoud Al-Halawani recalls. “Currently, I open my store amid these circumstances hoping that at any time of the day, a customer might stop by and buy something,” he added.
Shop owners like Al-Halawani close the doors of their stores and stay inside if the clashes escalate, but reopen just after they diminish.
Al-Halawani also said that many shop owners — including him — had to lay off workers because they were unable to pay them. Other workers accepted a lower salary because they do not have other options, he said.
A few years back, downtown Cairo was the most crowded area in the capital, filled with customers from all walks of life who flock in search of goods at usually cheaper prices than in other shopping areas.
“I was proud of the location of my store and considered myself lucky, but customers have deserted the area,” says Sami Gouda, an owner of a women’s clothing shop in Bab Al-Louk.
People, especially women, he said, are afraid of visiting the area, even in times when there are no protests, because they find it safer to shop from stores far from downtown. “I made discounts of 70 per cent on some products and that did not help me win back my customers,” Gouda stated. He also pointed to the illegal business practices of street vendors who contribute to shop losses.
Downtown’s recession appears to be affecting manufacturers as well. One example is garments.
“The situation in downtown Cairo leads to a decline in production capacity of local garments factories,” said Ahmed Shaarawi, head of the Garments Division at the Chamber of Textile of the Federation of Egyptian Industries.
Shaarawi stressed that downtown garments shops, counted in the hundreds, are considered a main market for factories. “Many shops in the hot spots are closed most of the time, and those opened are suffering from very poor sales,” he said. “Stores in the downtown area have a surplus of products and are not asking for factory supplies.”
He also added that protests and loose security at customs ports allow for the flow of illegal and cheap clothing. This is a threat to the whole garments industry.
There is no doubt that the current sit-in in Tahrir Square, as well as renewed protests every couple of days, are making the trade situation much worse in downtown Cairo, but owners of stores and experts like Shaarawi agree that businesses can boom once protests end and security is restored.

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