Rise and Fall: Once Lebanon’s Glamorous Center, Hamra Street Goes Dark

Of son small music shop on Hamra Street in Beirut, Michel Eid witnessed the rise and fall of Lebanon through changing fortunes of this famous boulevard for more over 60 years old.

Hamra Street was the center of The glamor of Beirut in the 1960s and 1970s, home at the top of lebanon movie houses and theatres, cafes frequented by intellectuals and artists, and shops sale top international brands. He saw a revival in the past decade, prosperous with international chain stores and lively bars and restaurants.

now a lot of son stores are closed. Miserable Lebanese and Syrian refugees beg on its sidewalks. pile of garbage up on its corners. Like the rest of lebanon economy crash swept it street like a destructive storm.

At 88, Eid remembers the bad times during the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, when Hamra saw militias fighting, killings in its cafes and, at one point, invading Israeli troops marching down the street. Nothing was like bad like now, Eid says.

“Basically”

“We have hit down,” he said. Few customers come in son Tosca Music Shop and Electronic Supplies, which sells records and a variety of electronic clocks, calculators and watches. His business dropped by 75%.

Lebanon’s economic collapse, which began in October 2019, was the culmination of that of the country post- time of war. The militia leaders of the war have become the direction policy and kept a lock on power since. They ran a economy what to times blew up but was actually a riddled Ponzi scheme with corruption and mismanagement.

The regime finally collapsed in what the World Bank calls one of the world is the worst economic and financial crises since the mid-1800s.

Currency value evaporated, wages lost buying powerdollars in banks became inaccessible, prices soared in a country where almost everything is imported. Up to 82% of the population live now in poverty, according to the United Nations. Unemployment is estimated at 40%.

The crisis was made worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020 which killed 216 peoplethousands injured and destroyed rooms of the capital.

While the economy system collapsed, politics one does not have. The same leadership, rooted in powerdid practically nothing to do face to the crisis. Refusing basic reforms, they have made no progress in talks with the monetary fund international (IMF).

A walk via Hamra Street shows the impact.

Many shops have shut down because landlords could no longer afford high rents and huge monthly bills for private electricity generators. After dark, the shops who are still operating close early. Many streetlights do not work car of Power cuts. Hamra, which used to stay bustling well into the night, feels deserted before midnight – even during the recent holiday season.

At the height of Hamra, in the 1960s and 1970s, the street was on up with colored lights at Christmas and New Year, with Santa Claus up and down the avenue offer candies to passers-by.

This was Lebanon’s pre-war cosmopolitan era – and Hamra Street was its elegant heart, Beirut’s Champs-Élysées. Arab, European and American tourists flocked to son chic shops, restaurants and bars.

Hamra had the best in the capital movie Houses. At the Piccadilly Theater, Fayrouz, Lebanon’s most beloved singer, performed. You could see the international the diva Dalida walks down the avenue before one of her shows at Piccadilly. World stars gave concerts in Lebanon, including Louis Armstrong and Paul Anka.

Located in western district of the capital of Ras Beirut, Hamra was – and still is – a place where Christians and Muslims live side through side. His cafes were meeting places for artists, intellectuals and political activists, taken up in the left-wing secular Arab nationalist spirit of the times.

“Hamra Street is a international Street,” says Mohammad Rayes, who worked on the street since the early 70s and owns three garments and lingerie shops in the area.

He was talking sitting in a coffee which, in in the 1970s was called the horseshoe. He pointed a corner or two of the greatest arab singers of At the time, Abdel-Halim Hafez and Farid el-Atrash had a regular seat, along with Nizar Qabbani, an emblematic romantic poet of Syria.

“It was dizzying, quite honestly, the number of people on Hamra. It was a vibrant and fleeting piece of life in the citysaid David Livingston, an American who lived for decades in Lebanon, speaking from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A student in Beirut in the 1970s, he remembered how intimidated, he entered the chic Hamra street to buy a leather belt from one of son shops.

The Civil War put an end to this golden age. In 1982, the troops ofinvasion Israelis crossed Hamra. After they left the militias took over area in fights that did great damage. Hamra’s Commodore Hotel has become a popular base for foreign journalists covering the war.

After the war, the center of that of Beirut international trade and shopping moved to a newly renovated downtown. But Hamra Street has had a makeover in the early 2000s when new the water, sewage and electrical systems have been installed and the asphalt has been replaced with pavers.

It fueled a revival past 15 years old. International channels like Starbucks and Nike have opened stores. New restaurants have blossomed. Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war have opened restaurants of theirs, along with sweets shops and popular shawarma stalls.

the new vague postponed a lot of the Hamra areapre-war icons. Its famous Modca coffee has been replaced by a bank. A McDonald’s stands in place of Restaurant Faisal, where Arab leftists once congregated over cigarettes, glasses of arak liquor and dishes of appetizers. The Piccadilly Theater was abandoned and was recently damaged by a fire.

But the street attracted a new generation of young people of all sects, bringing the progressive spirit of The frustrated Arab Spring of 2011. Once againla street rang with bars. A clubMetro Medina, attracted young crowds with retro live shows of old arabic music from past century.

‘Not the Hemras of the past’

Hamra remains a busy artery during the day. Thousands come for treatment at its medical centers or to study at the nearby American university of Beirut, one of the best educational institutions in the Middle East.

But “Hamra is not the Hamra of the past“said Elie Rbeiz.

The 70’s-year-old Rbeiz was a hairdresser for the elite in Hamra since 1962. He was one of his regular clients of the late Saudi businessman Adnan Khashoggi, who once flew Rbeiz to London on a private jet for cutting. Rbeiz expanded son business 20 years ago to include menclothes.

Now in the economic crisis, its sales plunged.

Still, Rbeiz thinks Hamra will bounce back back. He said son shop was blown up during the Civil War and it renovated and reopened. “I didn’t surrender then and I won’t surrender now. Ever.”

Not everyone is so sure.

“I feel the pain every day because there is more suffering and more poverty,” said Naim Saleh.

Saleh is a staple on Hamra Street, selling newspapers, magazines and books in son sidewalk kiosk for the past 52 years.

Now son business is ruined. Foreign magazines are a luxury few people can afford. He sells a book or two a month, compared to 50 a day in the past. Saleh watched a young beggar chasing Iraqi tourists nearby. “See how there are many beggars in the streets. It is like a curse.”

Eid opened son music store in Hamra in 1958. He’ll close it when he stops working, he says. His two sons live abroad; if they don’t want his 4,500 records, many of which of who are items collectors will donate them to the Lebanese National Superior Conservatory of Music.

Will Hamra Street flourish again? “Never ever. Impossible,” he said. Gulf tourists who formerly powered son trade won’t come back they will turn to europe.

But he won’t go away.

“Hamra Street is the oxygen I breathe,” he said. “I grew up up on Hamra Street and end my life here.

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