‘Downtown, everything’s waiting for you’

The capital’s Bezalel-Shatz promenade has a lot to offer.

The Studio East stall (photo credit: NAAMA BARAK)
The Studio East stall
(photo credit: NAAMA BARAK)
In the past few years, the Jerusalem Municipality and private ventures have sought to rejuvenate an area that was once just a regular residential neighborhood near the city center, creating a busy, trendy and appealing lifestyle space that has become an integral part of the Jerusalem scene. Walking through the Bezalel-Shatz promenade near the city center on a Friday, the Bezalel Arts Fair with its dozens of arts and crafts stands, set up next to upscale clothes stores and lively cafes, gives off a feelgood, relaxed vibe not always associated with the capital.
The fair opened in the fall of 2009 and has since become a staple in many Jerusalemites’ Friday routine. It extends from Bezalel and Shatz streets and the Menora Park on King George Avenue and operates every Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The fair is endorsed by the Jerusalem Municipality, which promotes the event and licenses it.
“There is a municipality policy to develop the city center and rejuvenate it,” says Yuval Yaakov of the Jerusalem Municipality operations department, adding that “The aim is to see the city center flourish and become prosperous once again.”
To do so, the municipality created “wandering areas” between two of the city’s tourist strongholds, the Mahaneh Yehuda market and the Old City, where it has set up interest points to draw people to enjoy their surroundings rather than just walk through the streets. The Bezalel Arts Fair is the highlight of this plan, and the weekly happening attracts the crowds into an otherwise relatively quiet area.
The dozens of stands in the fair offer a wide variety of goods, such as arts and crafts, ceramics and clothing. The fair is an excellent place to go for some for some last-minute Passover shopping and is in general a great place to get unique, handmade gifts all year round.
The pictures in Viviane Nathan’s Photography stall are mostly scenes of everyday life in Jerusalem, with stunning photographs of the market, the Old City and the downtown area. Nathan, originally from Uruguay, opened her stall at the fair three years ago and is very pleased with the location and the ambience of the Friday market. She thinks that similar fairs should be established in the city.
She says her customers are mostly from Jerusalem but that over the years people have started to come to the fair even from Tel Aviv. Tourists, on the other hand, are less aware of the fair, and Nathan would like the organizers to publicize it like other tourist attractions in the city. She notes that the past year has been a little less successful and suggests that it is because of the increasing economic difficulties in the city.
Prices at her stall range from NIS 15 for postcards, magnets and greeting cards to NIS 50 for poster
Alit Heiman, owner of Art in Jewelry, is one of the veteran stall owners at the fair, taking part in it from the beginning four years ago. She sells beautiful gold and silver pieces ranging from NIS 150 for rings and earrings to NIS 1,000 for larger gold necklaces.
Heiman thinks that the fair is a great venture for the city and is very pleased with its location. She says the area, once quite desolate, has been greatly revived since the fair opened, drawing in people who wouldn’t have passed through it earlier. She too thinks that while the fair is well frequented by both Jerusalemites and other Israelis, not enough tourists are aware of it. In her opinion, the municipality should market it more to tourists coming to town in order to turn it into a well-known arts area like Nahalat Binyamin in Tel Aviv.
Dan Uzielsells his charming photographs of miniatures at a stall at the top of Bezalel Street.
Once it was just a hobby, but he began creating miniatures and photographing them while working in art therapy with people with autism and, after a while, he began selling them. He first exhibited his photographs at the fair two years ago and likes the atmosphere it creates. He says that while there is always room for improvement and for enlarging the crowd at the fair, it has already become well established and well known.
Uziel sells framed miniatures and postcards at the fair at prices ranging from NIS 50 to NIS 200 and creates larger miniatures by special order.
Sara, originally from Detroit, sells ceramics at her Studio East stall, offering bright and colorful vases, bowls and trays, along with many other eye-catching items. A trained surgical technologist, Sara decided to go to art school, got a diploma to teach art and began creating ceramics to bring joy into people’s lives.
She is very pleased with the location of the fair and finds it wonderful to see so many people stroll through the area. However, like other stall owners, she too feels that the crowd this year has been somewhat smaller and suggests that it is because there might not have been as much advertising as in the past.
Sara says she sells her ceramics to everyone, and her pieces are priced accordingly. A small ring-holder costs around NIS 20, while larger vases and bowls can cost NIS 350.
Although the Bezalel Arts Fair is probably the event that brought the Bezalel and Shatz streets back into the forefront, the permanent shops and coffee shops on the promenades are equally responsible for the rejuvenation of the area, which now contains rather upmarket clothing stores and chic cafes.
Australian-born Barbara Shaw opened her gift store, Barbara Shaw Gifts (at 2 Bezalel Street), six years ago and now has shops on both Bezalel and Emek Refaim streets. She sells bright, colorful Israel-orientated products, and her clientele is mostly composed of tourists or people traveling abroad bearing Sabra gifts.
Among the many items in the store, there are mugs, bags, stationery and pillows decorated with colorful designs and fun Hebrew or Yiddish slogans. The store’s bestsellers, for example, are kitchen aprons decorated with Yiddish slogans, felafel-shaped purses and cactus-like key holders.
Shaw formulates her hit, one-of-a-kind ideas and works with a designer to create the delightful items. The store has something for everyone and is a great stop for some last-minute holiday shopping.
One of the most upscale clothing stores in Jerusalem, Sofia Designer Clothing at 2 Bezalel Street, offers top-totoe styling services to the city’s affluent and fashionable crowd. Housing pieces by dozens of top Israeli designers, the store seeks to be a platform for innovative and luxurious creations, ranging from clothes and bags to jewelry and sunglasses.
The store claims to be unique in providing a “total look” experience to its loyal customer base, supplying them with complete outfits and undivided attention. The price range is high, with shirts and tunics selling for NIS 400 and evening dresses selling for as much as NIS 4,000. In return, the store promises, the customers get the highest quality design and service.
Sofia has been open for the past six years, and the owner is not the biggest fan of the Bezalel Arts Fair, saying that it attracts crowds that don’t usually venture into the shop and actually deters the store’s regular customers from coming in on Fridays.
Another top-end designer store on the Bezalel promenade is Chomi Boutique, at 10 Bezalel Street, a designer gallery with a wide selection of clothes and accessories.
While the store offers high-end products, it tries to maintain a more Jerusalem-like style, providing also mid-price items in a warm atmosphere.
Boutique owner Chomi Shklar opened the store 10 years ago and is very pleased with its location, saying the whole area has become known as a shopping and lifestyle compound, where the emphasis is on design and quality rather than on price.
Shklar says that Jerusalemites have a distinct taste, usually opt for a more conservative style and are less won over by passing trends. She adds that Jerusalem is a tough city for fashion, seeing as it is relatively poor, and a place where people prefer cheaper clothes manufactured in China over local, high-quality designers.
Nadi Cafe, at 5 Shmuel Hanagid Street at the top of the Shatz promenade, was opened six years ago by Shai Cohen.
Over time it has become one of the most successful cafes in the city, attracting students from Bezalel’s architecture campus across the road, fashionable youngsters and local residents.
The café serves a wide variety of delicious kosher dairy favorites such as pastas, salads and sandwiches and is a great place to stop for coffee or a light meal. The place is bright and airy, and there are shaded tables out on the Shatz promenade.
Cohen is very pleased with the development of the area, saying that it has a young feel to it and has become quite well known around town. He adds that his clientele reflects the city’s population, catering to varied crowds
Cafe Bezalel at 8 Bezalel Street, opened by Ezer Avayo in 2008, has been serving Jerusalem’s secular, and some would say slightly hipster, crowd ever since. Avayo recently decided to open the café on Shabbat.
Despite a haredi protest on the first Saturday, the café has quickly become a regular Saturday morning spot for many local residents in an otherwise shut-down neighborhood.
The café offers an enticing array of food and drinks, be it unique breakfasts, delicious salads or a great iced coffee, and is recommended for any day of the week.
Cohen says he is pleased with the café’s location, calling it “the most successful promenade in Jerusalem.” He thinks that the street has greatly improved since it was closed to traffic and that the shops and the fair all add to the ambience.
The Designers in the City complex at the top of Bezalel Street, at No. 7, is home to more than 20 designers, who create and display their work there.
Composed of the artists’ studios, an exhibition gallery and the veteran Nocturno café, it has turned into quite a focal point in the area. The complex was opened two years ago with the help of the Jerusalem Development Authority as part of an effort to develop the city’s design industry. The authority aims to help budding artists and to revitalize the neighborhood.
The location of the complex was chosen for its centrality, says Anat Tzur, deputy CEO of the Jerusalem Development Authority, to increase the artists’ chances of selling their ware and kick-starting their careers.
The location has certainly drawn plenty of potential buyers to review the artwork, and the center has fast become a regular spot for art lovers.