Like roses among the thorns

The no-win situation of city center restaurants and bars, which is compounded by municipal directives.

Raphael Kohn (right) washes the street outside his Nahalat Shiva restaurant this past week, together with a 90-year-old shoemaker who has had a store in the area for 35 years (photo credit: Courtesy)
Raphael Kohn (right) washes the street outside his Nahalat Shiva restaurant this past week, together with a 90-year-old shoemaker who has had a store in the area for 35 years
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Every morning, Raphael Kohn starts his day by washing away urine and other excrement from the narrow alley that leads to his restaurant in Nahalat Shiva. Kohn hurries to do it very early, because he knows that if a municipality inspectors “catches” him cleaning, he will get a ticket (about NIS 400) for intervening in something outside his authority.
And, surprisingly enough, that doesn’t mean that the cleaning job will get done anyway.
A quick glance around the location of Kohn’s place – Hungarian restaurant IgenMigen Bistro Halavi – and other bars along the neighborhood’s narrow alleys reveal a shameful level of neglect, lack of minimal investment and… an easily identified fetidness.
“Since this municipality has apparently decided to destroy the city center, there is not much choice left for me here,” sighs Kohn. With more than 20 years’ experience in the food and bar industry, in seven countries around the world, “I really wanted to contribute to Jerusalem.”
The story behind Kohn’s despair can be attributed to cleaning issues, but that is only a tiny aspect of the problem. Out of a genuine concern to revitalize the city center, abandoned over the years by residents, visitors and customers for several reasons, the various authorities in charge have invested huge amounts of effort and funding. Yet Kohn is right on one crucial point: customers are still running away.
An enormous number of events, mostly outdoors, have been initiated or at least financed by the municipality, through its various administrations – from the arts and culture department, to the authority for small and medium businesses, to the city’s youth authority, to the Ariel Company (a subsidiary company for local cultural events), as well as the Jerusalem Development Authority through one of its main branches, Eden. The prevailing idea is that if the city center hosts an ongoing series of events – all free – it will attract enough visitors and local residents to come to the area, and boost the businesses’ gloomy economic situation.
“That was the rationale behind all these events,” says Zaphira Stern, an area resident and a member of the city’s arts and culture committee, “but it just doesn’t work out. It has not solved the problem of city center businesses; most of the money is invested in these events, while businesses are closing one after another for lack of customers and support.”
Kohn says he feels awful, adding that almost all his ideas and suggestions to make the neighborhood more appealing to customers have fallen on deaf ears.
“My customers, and those of neighboring restaurants and bars, are not the teenagers who come to listen to the full-volume music [often played at the municipal events] and dance in the streets. These guys will, at the most, buy a soda and eat a falafel or slice of pizza, and at the end of the evening will come to urinate or worse in Nahalat Shiva’s alleys.
“They are not the customers we expect, but they chase away the few adults, tourists or locals, who would like to sit in a clean restaurant and have a good meal. I am totally desperate and I believe there is no future for me here.”
Two additional owners of a restaurant and a bar in the surrounding area say more or less the same – although they refused to be identified, conscious of the need to maintain a good relationship with the authorities. One of them explained that it seemed too many hands deal with the city-center situation, and as a result there is no real planning, nor is there one central authority leading the operations on the ground.
“Every other day, someone new comes up with an idea that doesn’t take into consideration what has been already done, or is planned. We feel sometimes as if we are in the eye of a whirlwind of events that all end up with zero results.”
A quick glance at the programs and costs for city-center events for the year 2016 provides a clear picture: Money is not the problem, more how it is used. No less than NIS 7 million has been approved and spent on various outdoor events in Jerusalem – including in Nahalat Shiva (NIS 900,000 for street actors); Aza Road, the Clal Building and Mahaneh Yehuda (NIS 150,000); the German Colony’s Emek Refaim Street and the Baka neighborhood; the city center, including nightlife events (NIS 600,000); winter events (NIS 500,000); and the Formula One race (NIS 500,000). This does not include some of the standard Old City happenings that occur throughout the year.
“It is a lot of money,” says Stern.
“A very small part of this would have saved many businesses from total failure, and probably prevented some closures, but it seems that there is no single accepted authority that would see the whole picture and decide how and where all this money should be spent.”
As for the special grant for businesses that have been harmed by the security situation, most of the owners complain that the bureaucracy is so heavy that many have simply given up on it.
“My business is new,” explains Kohn, “so how can I give any details on the drop in income as compared to last year?” This is only one example of the particular problem linked to this special fund.
According to some eatery owners, the friendlier business atmosphere in Tel Aviv highlights why it is so difficult for Jerusalem concerns – some of which have closed, left the capital and moved to Tel Aviv.
“We need help to get ourselves off the ground, like discounts on taxes, loans with better conditions and support.
“The Jerusalem Municipality doesn’t provide any of these – only a lot of noisy music events that cause my customers to cancel their reservations and to run away,” concludes Kohn.