Beit Shemesh: Was It Ever Really the “City of the Rising Sun”?

Commercial Building Crisis?

The city of Beit Shemesh existed in biblical times and was established as a modern city in 1950. This modern city has recently been the site of tensions between certain extreme factions of the ultra-Orthodox (charedi) community and the modern Orthodox and secular Jews in the city. The recent violence that has been the result of these tensions has given the city a great deal of bad press. Several weeks ago a large demonstration in Beit Shemesh was made all the more visible by the attendance of many politicians, was covered extensively by the national and international media.

Normally, a situation such as this would be disastrous for sales of commercial properties in a city, but in Beit Shemesh I know of no commercial centers that could have be deemed a success even before the recent events.

For many years the city’s only commercial center was the one located in the old part of town near the municipality.   The center consists of small shops and kiosks, many of which have been around for years and cater to Beit Shemesh’s older, original population.

A commercial center called “Shukanyon” was built in the 1980s near the old shuk (outdoor market) of Beit Shemesh.  Unfortunately none of the shops there succeeded and none  of the financial backers of the center saw a return on their investment.

At about the same time another small commercial center was built in the neighborhood of Givat Savyon.  This commercial center still exists but cannot be considered a “success” as there is a very high turn-over of shops in the center.

The commercial center built between the neighborhoods of Sheinfeld and Ramat Beit Shemesh has remained closed for many years due to objections by the local charedi community over who would run the shops and frequent the commercial center.  This center is a true white elephant.

The list goes on and on.  Even as the city’s population has grown these commercial centers have continued to be unsuccessful.  Several years ago “BIG Group” built a large strip mall at the entrance to the city, one of 13 BIG shopping centers in Israel. While the mall consists of many large international chains with a stronger financial infrastructure than the average shops found in Beit Shemesh, the business offices that were built on the premises still remain partially empty three years after the building was completed,  despite this being one of the city’s only office buildings.

Four additional commercial centers are currently in various stages of construction. Any difficulties that the developers of these centers experience in renting and selling space is probably not a result of the recent strife in Beit Shemesh, rather it is due to a lack of confidence in the buying power of the residents of Beit Shemesh and the area.