Beirut Apple reseller: "It's very difficult"

The lone authorized Apple Center in Beirut, Lebanon, has been forced to shut its doors since the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah ignited a week ago. And that store faces an uncertain future, as its owner prepares to flee the fighting.

Jean Medlej, 51, and his family will likely evacuate Lebanon at the earliest opportunity, which may come as soon as this weekend. Dual citizens of France and Lebanon, he and his family are on an embassy list awaiting evacuation.

Medlej has operated the store for two-and-a-half years and said business has been good, with iPods accounting for half of his sales. In addition to the main store in Beirut, he also has “iPod counters” inside two of the four Virgin Megastores across Lebanon. But with the country under bombardment, he says, no one is in the mood to shop for non-essential items, much less Macs and iPods.

“It’s very difficult, it’s a beautiful country, the people are nice—but, I don’t know,” Medlej said. “We’re not considering leaving forever, but there's nothing to do here for the time being.”

“So we might as well leave for the time being and see what will happen and we’ll definitely be back,” he added.

On July 12, Israel began attacking targets in southern Lebanon, a base for the militant group Hezbollah, and in the capital, Beirut. Israel launched the offensive in response to Hezbollah's rocket attacks against northern Israel and the recent kidnapping of Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Medlej closed his Apple Center on the first day of fighting, July 12.

Apple Centers are licensed by Apple outside the United States. The stores match the design, style and feel of the Apple’s domestic retail outlets, although Apple Centers are not run by Apple.

Prior to the conflict, Medlej had already begun planning to operate as an authorized reseller in Montreal. That Canadian city is his likely destination once he leaves Lebanon. He hopes to reopen the Beirut store as soon as possible.

“If we get a real solution to this then we can put the country on its feet,” Medlej said. “If this is going to be another episode and with any chance that it will start again then people will not be ready to start again. The situation has been dragging for ages and now everybody senses that this is the end of it. We hope that it seems like we are going towards a negotiated solution and that will be the end of it, we hope. There are no miracles here—it will take time.”

Editor’s Note: This story was reposted at 9:40 a.m. PT on July 21, 2006, to clarify information about Jean Medlej’s business operations.

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