BEIRUT: As the intensity of violence escalates in Downtown Beirut, stores located in one of the most expensive neighborhoods of the country have ramped up their security measures in anticipation of increasing aggression. Directly in front of luxury brand stores Chanel and Rolex, dozens of workers Thursday were seen cutting and welding large steel sheets to fit storefronts, an increase in safety measures to prevent protesters from smashing glass and looting shops.
The safety measures come after a visible increase in vandalism and violence in recent weeks of protests, particularly in the areas surrounding Parliament as demonstrators have become more frustrated with the deteriorating economic situation.
Waygand Street by Nijmeh Square is dotted with luxury high-end fashion brands including Chanel, Rolex and Georgio Armani. Now the epicenter of Beirut’s protests, the area leading up to Beirut Souks was once the capital’s symbol of luxury and playground for Gulf elite.
Ali Ezzeddine, 27, who was overseeing the installation of the metal barriers for Chanel, said his team had been asked to strengthen security for three other high-end brands in the area. “They’re taking security measures because the vandalism and smashing of glass is getting worse and worse,” he told The Daily Star.
He explained that the barriers were made of steel and mounted on a metal frame to protect the glass.
“We don’t know how any of this is going to turn out right now but we’re taking security measures to avoid further problems,” he added.
Another group of men installed gold painted steel barriers on the expansive storefront of the George Hakim jewelry store.
“The owner asked us to put up metal barricades. These barriers are made of hardened steel and are 5 centimeters thick,” said Samir Assir, 26, supervisor of the barrier installation.
Assir said the company he worked for had been contacted by a few more stores in the area as well. Still, some shops maintained little protection, opting to only use metal fencing behind their glass windows.
Zeina Shehab, an associate at Oud Milano near Beirut Souks, explained that the store “isn’t ready for this kind of conflict. We have the metal fence, but people can break through the glass.”
Shehab said while she felt lucky that the store remained unharmed, she and her colleagues were unsure of the future of the protests. In the last two weeks, Shehab explained that the store’s operating hours depended on the level of violence in the surrounding area.
“We’ll wait to see what the protesters do when they gather. We’ll stay open if nothing is happening but if, for example, like yesterday, they climbed metal barriers or threw rocks, we’ll have to close.”
“What if they break the shop, what if the shop goes bankrupt?” she asked.
Norma al-Deek, a supervisor of a gown shop directly on Waygand Street, said “You can’t really take much protection here. The most you can really do is remove the gowns to make sure they don’t get destroyed.”
“If it keeps going like this we’ll have to close.”
Businesses in Lebanon have long suffered under the pressure of a deteriorating economy, but the nationwide protests which broke out on Oct. 17 have escalated the processes, forcing many businesses in the country to shutter.
Unofficial numbers from the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Nightclubs and Patisseries estimated that around 600 businesses shut down by November of last year. December and January numbers have not yet been calculated.