Friday, January 12, 2018

Virgin megastore, chronique d'une mort annoncee

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
As of late, and after the successful New Year's party in Nejmeh square it seems there is a plan to revive downtown Beirut by taking off the military cement blocks and the barriers put there. The restaurants that were there are practically all closed, Maaarad street is a ghost town, the jewelry stores exist no more, the cafes are all gone, the last two valiant resistors - an art gallery and a sports store - closed down about two years ago.
Apart from Beirut Souks (where four major stores closed down recently leaving large empty spaces in their wake), the whole area seems frankly dead. So the fact that Virgin Megastore closed its flagship store, which used to be an opera house is simply a "chronique d'une mort annoncee" (the chronicle of an announced death).
Virgin already has been outlets in malls, but frankly, one has to give it out to them they resisted so long - the many, many, upheavals that hit downtown since 2005 forced several stores, brands, independent shops, small time sellers to reconsider and - mostly- ultimately close. Day in day out, for several years, any manifestation, public outcry, even - explosion! - would happen in downtown Beirut and roads would be chronically blocked which of course affected negatively the businesses and the ability for patrons to get to them geographically.
When the Virgin store opened, Sir Richard Branson labelled it as "the most complete" (in terms of grouping the several divisions that a Virgin store usually sells) Virgin store there is. But hey, numbers are numbers and eventually, it was time to close.
So remind me again why real estate is not in deep trouble?
Naturally, we all speak of Virgin closing but does anyone talk of the staff they had to let go and livelihoods that are there no longer - livelihood composed by most likely youth and students trying to pay their university fees and exorbitantly inflated tuition.