Ground to a halt

he Shraga coffee shop, featured in In Jerusalem earlier this year, (Tea and (no) sympathy, 11 February 2005) has closed after it failed to obtain the necessary permits. Shraga drew a regular crowd who enjoyed the cosy decor and ambiance of the cube-shaped building on Derech Beit Lehem. But while clientele sipped their lattes the municipality was turning up the heat over the venture's failure to meet business requirements. Despite owner Nir Kadar's best efforts, including a NIS 60,000 renovation to the kitchen and more than twice that amount poured into the rest of the establishment, by mid-December the small coffee house closed its doors for the last time marking the end of a seven-year-long battle against bureaucracy. "We gave up," a dejected Kadar told In Jerusalem. Among the problems were the design and layout of the kitchen, and an undated demolition order for the building itself. "They don't even know when it will be destroyed," he added. Kadar said that due to a "misunderstanding" with the municipality when the cafe first opened, he didn't know the building was destined for demolition and only ever succeeded in obtaining a permit for a kiosk, but not a permanent establishment. This led to a series of fines that Kadar had to pay the municipality for operating a cafe "illegally." For Kadar the biggest disappointment is the municipal business permit department's dogmatic adherence to old, outdated rules and regulations. In a last act of defiance Kadar hung a mock funeral notice in the window of the shop for "Shraga of blessed memory" and charging the municipality with killing a local business, creating unemployment, and forcing innocent entrepreneurs into a life of crime - for without the permits he was operating outside the law. While agreeing that some laws do need a shake-up, Director of the Jerusalem Business Development Center (MATI) Uri Scharf said that many of the laws are demands from government ministries and therefore lie beyond the municipality's control. The Health and Environment ministries expect local authorities to enforce strict rules concerning the preparation and storage of food products. Those rules include the physical characteristics of the buildings involved. "Far be it from me to defend bureaucracy, but the municipality is only an agent for the Health Ministry," Scharf said. "At the end of the day the requirements are there to protect the public." Nonetheless, Scharf conceded that some of the current rules are "draconian". Since the closure, Kadar is putting his efforts into the Shraga deli shop, also located on Derech Beit Lehem, keeping at least Shraga's name alive. In response to this update, the Jerusalem Municipalilty Spokesman Gideon Schmerling said that the Business Licensing department assists all new businesses in Jerusalem by providing extensive information on licensing procedures in writing, over the phone or and on-line. However, Schmerling stressed that permits to coffee shops or restaurants require the business to follow sanitary and safety criteria that are determined by the ministry of health, the police and the fire department. "The municipality can not and will not give up those demands because doing so will compromise the well-being of the employees and clients," Schmerling said.