In Marseille, a McDonald’s has become a center of community life, but it may close
France has a reputation for staunchly protecting its culture, and in that regard a massive global chain like McDonald’s might seem like the embodiment of everything the French fight against. But in a neighborhood in France’s second largest city, residents and politicians are actually locked in a battle to keep their McDonald’s open. In an area where everything else seems to be going wrong, the Golden Arches are a shining beacon of hope.
Though the coastal city of Marseille may be one of France’s largest tourist destinations, the city’s northern neighborhood of Saint-Barthélémy isn’t a part of town many people would want to visit. According to the Telegraph, the area suffers from gangs and drugs, resulting in an alarming 30 percent unemployment rate. As a result, the second-largest private-sector employer in the area is the local McDonald’s, not only because it has a staff of 77 people, but also because the location has shown a willingness to hire at-risk young people like school dropouts and ex-cons. But McDonald’s France and the franchisee want to close this restaurant, and locals fear shutting the business could make the neighborhood far worse.
“There’s nothing left in areas like this and McDonald’s is a center of community life, a place where families can sit down and relax with their kids,” Salim Grabsi, part of the residents’ association, told the Telegraph. Other local businesses like the bakery, butcher’s shop, and hairdresser have all already closed.
The franchisee apparently claims the restaurant is losing money—a point employees contest, according to the AFP—and he says he wants to sell the location to a Tunisia-based company looking to turn it into a halal restaurant aimed at local residents. However, the staff insists the whole sale is a loophole intended to avoid paying out unemployment compensation, worrying that a new restaurant may never materialize. So they’ve obtained a court order preventing the McDonald’s from being sold based on a French law that requires an owner to consult with employees first.
Despite primarily affecting the future of one neighborhood, politicians from the area have apparently taken up the Saint-Barthélémy McDonald’s plight. The city’s mayor has supported keeping the restaurant open, and the area’s senator has even vowed to “oppose its presence throughout Marseille” if McDonald’s lets the closure happen.
“From the outside it might seem to be just another restaurant,” local politician Jean-Luc Melenchon was quoted as saying by the AFP during a recent visit. “But it's the only place where there's something going on in this area, where you can get something to drink or have a bite to eat with friends.”