Eid al-Fitr is traditionally a festive holiday and a new outfit is a must to mark the occasion. In the days leading up to the holiday, clothing stores should be abuzz with shoppers, but this year, Yusef Abu Asad, the owner of Saga, a popular women’s imported clothing and jewellery store in Gaza City is sitting in an empty store, waiting in vain for customers.
“It’s now 2:00 P.M., three days before the holiday,” he told Gisha’s field coordinator a few days ago. “At this time of year, the shop is usually very busy. Not a single customer has come in since the morning. Up until last year, I’d hire my sister and her friend to help me in the boutique over the last ten days of Ramadan. This year, I’m on my own. I’ve reached the point where I bring a mattress with me to the store so I can sleep when there’s no work.”
The dire economic situation in Gaza, further exacerbated over the last year by Israel’s tightening of the closure and the Palestinian Authority delaying salary payments to its employees in Gaza, has impacted women’s clothing sales, which were relatively strong in Gaza’s clothing sector. “Last year was already a very hard season. This season is worse,” says Abu Asad. “In past years, I’d close up for the day with 7,000 ILS (around 1,950 USD) in sales. Last season, I made up to 1,500 ILS (a little over 400 USD). But this year, things have gotten really bad. For example, today, I sold only 160 shekels’ worth (around 45 USD) until noon.
Some years, customers would come to the store with a thousand shekels in hand (280 USD). Today, Abu Asad says, the same women can barely buy a single item. Even after Abu Asad significantly scaled down prices, his customers find it difficult to pay. “Most of the customers just come to look or ask to pay later.”
The financial distress, partly the result of an unprecedented 49.1% unemployment rate, is coupled by severe cuts to electricity. Gaza residents get no more than four consecutive hours of power each day. Business owners must rely on generators, which they use sparingly in order to reduce costs. “I turn on the generator only when customers come into the store,” Abu Asad admits.
“There’s a sense of despair, affecting everyone. It doesn’t feel like a holiday outside,” says Abu Asad, hoping for better days and dreaming of a time when customers buy new clothes for the holiday and for the wedding season that follows.