Ashrafieh, a business district with a human face
There are in Ashrafieh around a hundred office buildings, the most recent are between five and ten years old.
The area is now home to many companies: more than thirty banks and a dozen financial companies have established branches. There are also insurance companies and consulting firms. These companies are located in a neighborhood that is still residential. At the same time of the day, one can come across a housewife shopping, a young man making his way to his office with his computer or briefcase in hand, a bank manager hurrying to the RDCL headquarters (Rassemblement de Dirigeants et Chefs d’entreprises Libanais) located in the neighborhood, or a student returning home after classes in the early afternoon. All this gives the area an image of strong dynamism, where personal and professional lives intertwine; the image of a business district with a human face.
This dynamism opens up many job opportunities in sectors particularly diverse. Engineers, lawyers, accountants, consultants or secretaries positions are regularly filled. One must mention however that the catering sector is one of the most dynamic sectors in the neighborhood. The steady influx of tourists compels pubs, cafes and restaurants to regularly recruit. In Gemayzeh alone, we count more than 80 establishments stretching on less than one kilometer. The employment opportunities interest not only restaurant professionals but also students.
Eliane, 22, student by day and waitress at night in a pub in Gemayzeh said, "This job allows me to contribute financially to my studies. Obviously, I don’t get to spend much time with my parents because I come home late ... But at least, I can help them a little financially. "
Small businesses remain but make way for major retail groups
Ashrafieh’s streets have always been, and are still today, buzzing with different shops and stores, giving the area a vibrant and stimulating atmosphere. Small businesses are still numerous, although we can clearly notice their gradual disappearance, just like everywhere in the industrialized world.
In every street there are often several hairdressers and beauty salons. Ashrafieh women have always been described as very ‘coquettes’. Beauty treatments, mainly manicures and brushings, are part of their daily lives.
Small butchers are still very present in the area, just like bakeries, these small shops where you can buy the famous Manakish, this tasty thyme pizza mostly consumed as breakfast. Small business still omnipresent: the small grocery store. In a street located in the hotel Gabriel area for example, a small grocery store has been supplying residents for a dozen years now. Inside are stacked, in a cheerful chaos, food, toiletries, notebooks for students and cleaning products. Outside lays a display of the seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Odette, a 60-year-old housewife explained, "I’ve been coming here for the last ten years. I can find everything here and it’s not more expensive than elsewhere and I can chat with the shopkeepers about the neighborhood. "
As for the expansion, the area is also invested by large supermarkets chains and large shopping centers that have a certain prestige. They weren’t located there by chance: Ashrafieh is a major tourist destination in the Lebanese capital. It is visited throughout the year by a high socio-economic class, coming from abroad to stopover the city and its boutiques. So this is the perfect place to invest in a new business. ABC Mall, near Sassine Square, opened its second branch in Ashrafieh, first one in Dbayeh, a few years ago and groups around 200 shops, several cinema theaters and numerous restaurants stretching over 60 000 square meters.
Other areas also mass a lot of businesses, but in another style: the Sodeco district, specifically Sodeco Square, born in the 90s. This mall has various shops and businesses, a couple of restaurants and a cinema. It is much smaller than the ABC but is now part of the landmarks of the neighborhood. We meet at Sodeco Square for a movie, a coffee or a quick stop at the beauty salon. Near Sodeco Square, a street seems to have been dedicated to antique and art dealers. It is lined with stores whose names evoke the history and the past.
Other locations in Ashrafieh host many shops as well as local and international brands. The Independence Avenue, between Hotel Gabriel and Sassine Square, gradually became a street busy with shops and boutiques, which vary between clothing, a caterer, a large bookstore, several restaurants and food shops (catering and pastry) …
An area popular with designers
This sector, including that of Ashrafieh and Gemayzeh, is where many fashion designers decided to open their workshops and showrooms.
When we ask them the reason why they chose Ashrafieh, they all say that to them this neighborhood is "the heart of Beirut, with its authentic character, simple and elegant all at once." This is where the clientele they aspire to have is located, they say, it has the socio-economic class and the taste for fashion, novelty, style. Others explain that they chose Gemayzeh, because they foresaw long ago the potential and the economic boom that the district is currently experiencing. They explain that the area was still very calm ten years ago, but its strategic position (center of Beirut and near the rest of the city), makes it a sector that can only flourish. Unfortunately, some of them are forced to move when the owners want to destroy the building, sometimes to sell the land to a property developer. Closer to Downtown, Saifi Village also groups many young designers’ boutiques. Its quiet streets and small recently renovated buildings make it the perfect destination for a very pleasant walk in search of new fabrics in luxury boutiques. Many jewelry and furniture designers, who combine modernism and Oriental traditions, also chose this famous street.