Joseph Guret surveyed the charred remains of his tobacco shop outside Paris, one of the hundreds of businesses ransacked in riots that have caused an estimated one billion euros across France.
“They’ve taken my whole life away, now I have nothing left,” Guret said, his voice shaking.
The 30-year-old shop owner said his tobacconist in Neuilly-sur-Marne was attacked by 10 people on Thursday night who “took everything they could” and then “burned everything”.
The government had counted on Saturday attacks on 10 shopping malls, 200 supermarkets, 250 tobacconists and 250 bank branches following four nights of mayhem. No updated figures have been released.
Inching through the space cut off from electricity by the light of his phone, Guret wondered “why they did this, they’ve burned their own neighbourhood.”
Selling lottery tickets, postage stamps and often coffee and snacks as well as tobacco products, French “tabacs” can be a rare meeting spot in remote or deprived communities.
“Now they have to drive for 10 minutes to get cigarettes,” Guret said as he stepped around scorched chairs.
President Emmanuel Macron suggested Tuesday that the “peak” of rioting “has passed”, while remaining “cautious” for the coming days.
Abdelhamid Faddeoui, head of Aetos Private Security based near Paris, said “everyone is afraid that this is just a false calm” and “most of my clients are keeping up a high level of security”.
In the violence since June 27, the day teenager Nahel M. was shot by police in a traffic stop, damage has amounted to “more than a billion euros ($1.1 billion) without counting the harm to tourism”, said Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, head of employers’ organisation Medef in an interview with the Parisien daily on Monday.
“This situation has also led to a worsening of France’s image that will have to be repaired,” he added, warning that foreign investors could “abandon projects” in the country.
– ‘Life’s work to ash’ –
With some shop owners talking about going out of business in the wake of attacks, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has vowed government aid and pushed insurers and banks to help out.
“When your shop has been totally burned down, when your whole life’s work is turned to ash, the state has to be there by your side,” he said Tuesday, promising “case-by-case cancellations of tax and social charges for the worst-affected shopkeepers”.
Insurers’ association France Assureurs asked members Tuesday to reduce deductibles for “small independent shopkeepers who have been hit hardest” in the rioting.
Firms have also been requested to extend the deadline for declaring damages to 30 days, from five usually, and to speed up payouts including down payments for “the most difficult situation,” the body said in a statement.
France Assureurs president Florence Lustman told broadcaster Franceinfo that 5,800 claims had reached insurers, worth “at least 280 million euros” — significantly higher than France’s three-week riots in 2005, which totalled 204 million.
Daniel Baal, general manager of cooperative bank Credit Mutuel Alliance Federale, said his firm would offer affected businesses holidays from loan payments or short-term overdrafts to get through the toughest times.
“Clients living in these neighbourhoods are often not the best-off, and we want to stand by them, because they’re victims… in neighbourhoods where there have been riots,” Baal added.
– Security firms ‘extremely stretched’ –
Even as the government hopes for a return to business as usual, security firms are stocking up to meet a surge in demand.
“There are companies who have doubled or tripled their security staff,” said Aetos director Faddeoui.
“The sector is extremely stretched, we need around 20,000 or 22,000 extra security guards,” to meet demand, he added.
Jeremy Regalado, head of glass repair firm WonderGlass, told AFP that “we’ve had so many calls we’ve had to turn away some clients”.
“On Friday alone we put up wooden barriers to protect 10 shops in less than six hours,” he added.
Most businesses that chose to protect their storefronts have left the boards — installed for a price of between 50 and 100 euros per square metre (10 square feet) — in place for now.
Compared with the cost of replacing a broken window — up to 5,000 euros — it seems to many shopkeepers to be the safest option.
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