Tel Aviv — Sara Stern recently sat outside Sheinkin Street’s storied Cafe Tamar, which has been serving poppy seed rugelach and creamy cappuccinos to Tel Aviv’s local literati since 1941, and braced for the battle ahead.
“The mayor was here earlier this week,” the blue-haired, 87-year-old proprietor said. “He asked for my approval to renovate the street. I told him, ‘Over my dead body.’”
An old-timer with a handlebar mustache sitting at an adjacent table, part of a colorful group of Cafe Tamar devotees, chimed in to the conversation.
“We’ll all lie down in front of the tractors before we let that happen,” he said.
The two were referring to a plan by City Hall to begin the second phase of a renovation, just after Passover, of a street that has been the heart of hip Tel Aviv for decades. They feared that the expected disruption of business might force establishments like Cafe Tamar, which contribute to Sheinkin’s unique character, to close. With over a dozen shops shuttered along the once prime location, the fears are not without justification.
“It’s 17:16 [5:16 p.m.] right now, and we’re almost empty,” Stern complained. “It never used to be that way.”
Sheinkin is to Tel Aviv what St. Marks Place is to New York City’s East Village: a bohemian playground where poets, posers, fashionistas and Rastas have met and mingled for years. But recently the area has undergone considerable changes. It’s not quite gentrified; small businesses — designer boutiques, cozy cafes, falafel joints and crowded kiosks — still outnumber international outlets, like Nike and Diesel, that have set up shop. But almost all agree it has lost some of its luster because of high rents and the rise of other trendy neighborhoods, like nearby Florentine.
“It’s just not what it used to be 15 years ago,” said Ido Nuri, owner of The Bold and the Fruitful, a juice store on Sheinkin. “It needs a new shtick.”
Enter Tel Aviv’s municipality.
Last November, it tore up the lower section of Sheinkin between Allenby and Melchett streets and gave the street a badly needed facelift.
When the street reopened on April 2 — just in time for Passover — it sported a new look. Gone is much of the grit that was also part of its old glory. The car lane is paved with neat gray cobblestones imported from China; the pavement is wider and can accommodate more pedestrians; spaced LED lights line the sidewalks, and there is even a bike lane.
In addition, on Tuesdays and Fridays, Sheinkin will close to vehicular traffic and turn into an open market.
The renovation marks a welcome change for some, including Tomer Yaron, owner of eyewear store Mishkafei Sheinkin, who was full of praise for the municipality’s initiative.
“It looks very European,” he said. “Hopefully this will bring in more shoppers and tourists.”
But not everyone is as enthusiastic, despite a municipality representative’s claim that the renovation will bolster business once it’s completed in early 2013. Chaim, the ultra-Orthodox owner of a Judaica store who asked not to give his full name, predicted that the renovations will do little to rejuvenate the neighborhood or to bring customers to his store.