In a final act of desperation, a Tel Aviv shoe store owner, bankrupted by two lockdowns, shut down his store for good on Monday, and emptied his merchandise onto the sidewalk for passersby to scavenge through.
Video of the incident went viral, highlighting the struggles and pain of small business owners in Israel who have been hit by two coronavirus lockdowns in recent months and received little or no assistance from the government.
“It’s all caused by mental and economic desperation,” said owner Avi Samay, a 38-year-old father of three from the nearby city of Holon. “If I’m going to lose everything, at least others should benefit.”
“I’m going to hand over the keys and go look for a job like the other million unemployed,” he told the Ynet news site with tears in his eyes.
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) October 12, 2020
Samay told Channel 13 that storing the shoes cost too much and he saw no end in sight to the lockdowns and economic turmoil that would allow him to reopen his shop on the city’s normally packed Allenby Street.
“It started with the first closure. You feel that you are just losing more and more money. Nobody helps, the landlord doesn’t help, the state doesn’t help,” he said.
Small business owners and self-employed people in Israel were among the worst affected by the first lockdown Israel imposed earlier this year to fend off the coronavirus pandemic, and they have been devastated again by the second lockdown, in force since September 13.
“Who am I going to sell to? No one is open,” he said gesturing to a long line of shuttered stores, many of them with For Rent signs. “It’s not just me, it’s all of us.”
Adding insult to injury, Samay was fined NIS 5,000 ($1,500) by the Tel Aviv municipality and forced to clean up the sidewalk outside the store and throw the remaining shoes into a dumpster.
In a sign of despair caused by the crisis, dozens continued to sift through the garbage cans looking for matching shoes.
The municipality later said that the inspector did not realize why Samay had created a mess on the sidewalk and urged him to appeal his fine.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai told Army Radio on Tuesday that the fine would be canceled, saying it was issued by mistake.
Israel has been under a national lockdown for the past month to contain a raging second wave of the pandemic, which at one point reached some 9,000 daily cases. Recent days have seen both the number of daily cases and the percentage of positive tests go down amid the sweeping restrictions on the public. The death toll is soaring, however, crossing 2,000 on Sunday — just five weeks after it passed 1,000.
However, the policy has been widely condemned for failing to differentiate between hard-hit areas and the rest of the country. The government has been accused of being unwilling to single out the ultra-Orthodox communities, which have been especially affected. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also been accused of imposing overly broad restrictions in order to justify clamping down on mass protests against him.
Finance Minister Israel Katz last week harshly criticized the lockdown policy, saying the indiscriminate closure would unnecessarily drive millions of Israelis to hunger and despair. Netanyahu accused him of trying garner votes at the expense of the public’s health
On Sunday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called on the Finance Ministry to fund full compensation for businesses and workers who have lost income due to the lockdown.
“As a government, we need to make sure that those business owners and people who lost a lot will get not just pocket money, but full compensation, in real-time, and I intend to fight for that,” Edelstein said.
“There can’t be a situation where we demand restrictions and then the self-employed and businesses have not received the required compensation. I will not let this continue,” he said.
Health Ministry figures released Sunday showed that the number of daily coronavirus tests plummeted a day earlier — in keeping with normal weekend trends. At the same time, the positivity rate dropped to its lowest level in a month, which is not generally seen with a low number of tests.
Edelstein’s remarks came as an alliance of chains in apparel, commerce, and catering called upon retailers to disobey government coronavirus restrictions and urged businesses in cities with low infection rates to reopen on October 18.
The alliance, which represents 400 retail chains and over 18,000 stores mostly in malls and shopping centers nationwide, said in a Sunday statement that its call for civil disobedience was in response to “the drastic exit plan of the Health Ministry,” according to Hebrew language media.
That announcement came after a coalition of small business owners similarly warned Sunday that they will defy the lockdown and open their doors, saying they can no longer bear the financial cost of government limitations.