In the second wave of the coronavirus, Belgium divided the trades into essential and less essential. To avoid unfair competition, some supermarket shelves have been closed.
“What hell, 2020? ”
Dealer Elodie Gleis has glued the large sticker text to the window of his Rose gift shop. The store is known for its fun window ownership, which Gleis designs and makes himself.
This time, the taping sums up Gleis’s feelings about the ongoing second wave of the coronavirus, which has hit Belgium more severely than many other European countries. As hospitals filled, Belgium had to put in place strict closures. Restaurants and bars have been closed for a few weeks now, and almost all shops closed in early November.
The closure will last at least until December 13th.
“The closure was expected. I was really expecting action before, ”says Gleis.
The lights on the Gleis store are on, and a large pile of customer orders has been assembled on the windowsill. However, the door only opens for order applicants.
When we talk in the doorway, four customers try in vain to shop. The main season for gift shops is about to begin.
“In November – December, one-third of sales will come,” Gleis says.
Spring was a depressing time, but this fall, Gleis decided to act differently. He revamped his store’s website, which now has more than 800 products. Gleis has been able to offer work to a part-time employee of the shop who was laid off in the spring. In just over a week, there have already been 50 orders.
“I’m not scared or worried right now. Envy or bitterness is of no use in this situation, ”he says.
With Gleis could be a reason for bitterness, as Belgium made a decision this autumn that annoyed many traders. The government chose “essential business areas” where entrepreneurs are allowed to keep their stores open. In addition to grocery stores and pharmacies, these include, for example, flower, chocolate and bookstores.
Next to the Gleis Rose store is Peinture Fraîche, which sells art and architecture books, and its door is sluggish. Owner Philippe Demoulin had already prepared to close its store, but was positively surprised by the government’s decision.
“For me, books are a necessary necessity, of course, but I understand that is not the case for everyone. On the other hand, access to culture is limited, so books can be thought of as a substitute for that as well, ”Demoulin says.
Demoulin says neighboring merchants have commented on the opening hours, but kindly.
“There is a closed children’s clothing boutique next door. It’s a good question whether dressing children is a necessary necessity or not, ”he ponders.
In spring many merchants were appalled that after the closure of small specialty stores, large supermarkets kept their doors open.
This fall, the government came up with a new kind of solution. Large supermarkets had to close some of their departments. Buyers are not allowed in the toy, home appliance and interior decoration departments of hypermarkets, for example.
“When the stores closed in the spring, the big supermarkets quickly started to develop non-food offerings as well. I consider the decision now made to be a good one, because a closure like the one in the spring would have weakened and wounded small entrepreneurs quickly, ”says the CEO of the Brussels Chamber of Commerce. Olivier Willocx.
The business figures for the big cities in Belgium are gloomy. According to forecasts by the Brussels Chamber of Commerce, the interest rate crisis could bring up to 50,000 new jobseekers to the city’s labor market. The Brussels region has said that the corona epidemic will cause a deficit of more than one billion euros in this year’s budget.
There are a lot of restaurant and retail businesses in the city that won’t survive the closures, Willocx says.
“According to the worst forecasts, as many as 60 percent of restaurant businesses could close down. I think the more realistic figure is half that. Now there are hardly any bankruptcies because the work of the authorities is limited, ”he says.
Brussels entrepreneurs who have contacted the Chamber of Commerce are concerned. However, Willocx says the differences in attitudes are large.
“It’s not worth looking for culprits or thinking about what the government should have done differently. Those who accept the situation and try to find new opportunities do best. ”
Willocx has just held a meeting with barber hairdressers. Hairdressers and beauty salons have also had to close their doors.
“Some hairdressers are going to try a model where, for example, with a monthly fee of one hundred euros, the hair of the whole family will be cut once a month. This can be interesting because renting a commercial apartment is expensive for an entrepreneur. ”
Part landlords did not collect spring rents. In the spring, retailer entrepreneurs received a grant of EUR 4,000 to pay rent and wages, for example. Short-term layoffs have also been facilitated.
There is no magic way to repair the economic impact of the corona epidemic. According to Willocx, it is now clear that after the Corona period there will be no return to a similar opportunity as before.
“If teleworking continues, even as a partial trend, up to 30 percent of restaurants in downtown Brussels could be left without customers,” Willocx describes.
A sensitive question is also whose business is worth supporting at all. Already the summer showed that customers did not return to the shops as expected.
“There needs to be a debate about the need to help some people give up their business. It is difficult for us, politicians and trade unions. ”
The recovery in tourism will take the longest, Willocx warns.
“The recovery in tourism may go until 2023 or probably beyond.”
Brussels the old town center is quiet on weekdays. Teleworking is a must for anyone who can do it. There are no tourists.
The French kiosk at Manneken Frites would have four employees at normal lunchtime, but now only two people are frying French. French entrepreneur Asadulla Hussain there is no bright telling.
“Only a few customers visit at lunchtime. Otherwise, he is dead because this is an office block. ”
The sale must cover at least the rental costs, but the salary will be reduced. To himself, he has not paid a salary throughout the Corona period.
“The future doesn’t play pleasant music,” Hussaini describes.
Belgians have been urged to support local potato production in times of crisis by eating the French. Hussaini says the price per kilo of potatoes has fallen slightly, but that doesn’t matter in the end. It is most expensive to keep the fryer running and the worker to run it.
Traders Gleis and Demoulin are more hopeful. Demoulin’s art bookstore has just set up a new website and has been able to keep all four employees at work.
Municipalities in the Brussels region are now appealing for local purchasing. The hope is that the gifts would be purchased from your own home block. Gleis says his business is helped by a loyal clientele.
He did not take a vacation and managed to balance his finances in the summer. While Christmas is important, losing it in trade no longer feels like the end of the world.