‘For sale’: Writing is on the wall for many shops in Jordan as COVID crisis takes toll

Dozens of ads of cafes and restaurants up for sale have spread on social media

  
A medical supply worker arranges goods at a shop in Amman, before Jordan begins a five-day national lockdown tonight amid fears over the rising number of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, Jordan November 10, 2020.

A medical supply worker arranges goods at a shop in Amman, before Jordan begins a five-day national lockdown tonight amid fears over the rising number of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, Jordan November 10, 2020.

Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

AMMAN — In a telltale sign of a creeping crisis, “for sale” notices are dotting the walls of restaurants, clothes and mobile shops all over the Kingdom, owing to the losses their owners have incurred since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The shop is for sale, I can no longer afford to pay rent or my worker’s wages,” reads a sign in a clothes shop in Jabal Hussein.

The shop is one of many others in the once popular market of Jabal Hussein that has a sign hanging on its doors, with those passing by having a glimpse at an empty, cleared out shop inside.

“It has become a depressing sight. Some of the greatest names here, shops that have been open since the 1980s, are clearing out, defeated by the repercussions of the pandemic,” said Lawrence Yasin, a jewellery shop owner.

Yasin said that the smallest shops have been “hit the hardest”, with brand names that moved into the market a few years ago “still running — although their profits have decreased too.”

Yasin’s gold shop, which has been open since 1989, is one of the few individually owned shops that remain open, while “most shops either went bankrupt in the last few years due to market stagnation or this year due to the pandemic.”

“It might not have been the pandemic alone that caused the shops to run into bankruptcy, but it definitely was the last blow,” he added.

As for restaurants and cafes, which now close at 9 pm and are forbidden to serve shisha, the losses parallel that of the clothing, footwear, and jewellery sector.

“As if it was not enough that we close on Fridays, one of our busiest days, or that we wrap up at 9 pm, which is our prime time, now we cannot serve hookah, which is one of our most demanded items on the menu, so, really: What is left?” said Hassan Amr, the owner of a small cafe located at the Second Circle.

A communiqué issued by Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Bisher Al Khasawneh last Monday banned the servicing of shisha in restaurants, cafes and any other facility.

“Many of my customers are elderly men who come here to play cards, drink coffee and tea and smoke shisha. These are the only services I offer them, and the only services I have been offering them since I opened back in the 1980s,” added Amr.

“I might as well close now before dragging myself another week or a month by opening the shop and having to stare at its empty tables. What a depressing sight, and one that I have never seen since I opened!” said the 64-year-old man.

The Head of the Amman Chamber of Commerce, Khalil Hajj Tawfiq, said that he “supports any measure aimed at fighting the spread of the coronavirus in any way, but restaurants and cafes were never a hotspot for the virus.”

According to Hajj Tawfiq, “there is no evidence that the banning of shishas will contribute greatly to limiting the spread of the virus, because people now gather and smoke shisha at home where there is no monitoring”.

As the government had previously announced that it would tighten control measures over places of public gatherings, Hajj Tawfiq stressed that calls are mounting from shop owners “to compensate them for the damage they suffered as a result of the many defence orders that have been affecting their businesses”.

The owners of restaurants and cafes are “unanimous in demanding support and asking that the government finds a way to reduce their burdens, such as exempting them from trust fees, postponing bank payments and reviewing bounced checks,” said President of the Jordan Restaurants Association Omar Awwad.

“The owners are demanding the issuance of a defence order that deals with the problem of their rent payments, as many of them have had to pay thousands in rent without gaining as much as half of it due to government measures,” said Awwad, who added that some shop rents can reach hundreds of thousands.

In the past few days, dozens of ads of cafes and restaurants up for sale have spread on social media, while some closed without notice or announcements, noted Awwad.

“This is not a shisha issue, this is an issue of government decisions that have neither maintained the economy nor controlled the spread of the virus,” he added.

As for Tamer Khasawneh, a 28-year-old man who owned a mobile shop, the reason behind his business closure was that he has “had to endure employees’ salaries, rent, operational bills and payments for goods that are no longer being sold.”

After working throughout college, Khasawneh opened his shop near the Seventh Circle and has been doing well up until the pandemic.

“Although there were no lockdowns or bans specific to my sector, unlike the food and health sectors, the purchasing power of citizens has significantly dropped and no one is thinking of buying new electronics at the moment,” he added.

Khasawneh noted that “there is hardly any possibility of people spending money on luxuries, as some are struggling to meet their basic needs, so I decided to cut my losses before they started.”

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