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OpenSoon gives a fresh boost to business

Natacha Cadonici - ©OpenSoon

2013-08-09 - If there’s one district in Brusselswhere things are happening and which continues to regenerate itself, it’s that located between the Stock Exchange and the Canal. Long known mainly for its fashion designers, many of them from the North of the country, the area around Rue Dansaert, Rue de Flandre and Rue de Laeken has now succeeded in diversifying its activities.

The OpenSoon programme has had a clear impact. This initiative run by Atrium and supported by the ERDF and the Brussels-Capital Region has set itself the goal of giving a fresh boost to shopping centres, mainly by renovating commercial units, primarily in the Canal Area, by offering business start-up grants. These grants can cover up to 50% of the investment associated with opening a retail business.

The Dansaert factor: from food tastings to jewellery

Rue Antoine Dansaert invites you to get away from the city centre’s boulevards, and leads you by the hand in the direction of the Canal. As you walk down it all the way to the start of Chaussée de Gand, you pass a fine array of shops – from the traditional to the highly innovative. Two stores which fall into the latter category were selected during calls for projects under the OpenSoon scheme.

At number 161, the large shop window of dansaert 161 tempts you to try its coffees and snacks in a somewhat sombre and retro atmosphere – or ‘classically elegant’, as connoisseurs would say. You can consume on the premises or take away, but whichever option you go for, this is quality fare served up to an upmarket public. Inside, you can read or use the Internet as you eat.

A few buildings further down on the same side, at 175, Joya Brussels sells contemporary designer jewellery. The idea is to welcome designers and offer them a place where they can exhibit and hence express themselves. Born from a meeting between two designers, this boutique aims to be a forum and a springboard for creators of contemporary jewellery.

Many projects already supported

OpenSoon operates using calls for projects. The first set of applications was considered in February 2010 and, since the programme started, over 200 candidates have expressed an interest. A total of 152 have appeared before a panel of selectors, and 94 retailers have been selected by 11 panels. In the Canal Area alone, 23 commercial units have been renovated (13 of which are trading), another 5 are in the pipeline, while 4 shop fronts have been improved and a further 14 are undergoing improvement.

On the panels, representatives from various sectors linked to the local economy in Brusselslook at whether projects meet the conditions for eligibility: the premises must have been vacant for more than six months, and must be located within the Canal Area and in a retail district. If the panel agrees to support the project, a grant covering 50% of the cost of the works and up to six months of rent may be awarded. Several of these stores have really succeeded in taking off thanks to the help they have received.

The following criteria are taken into account: the shop must meet a need on the part of local consumers; it must be innovative or inventive and of a high quality; its financial plan must be watertight; it must obviously look viable and must be characterised by a certain boldness.

Although operation OpenSoon was originally scheduled to end in June 2013, it should be extended beyond this year. OpenSoon is also helping regenerate businesses outside the Canal Area, although to a lesser extent.

A friendly and creative atmosphere: from Flandre to Van Artevelde

Rue de Flandre, right at the heart of the CanalArea’s central districts, has a special, almost village-like feel to it. Any new shop that is opened there therefore has to fit in with this friendly atmosphere. APDM was one of the first to do so: this specialist bagel store which has relocated to a different district has taken this point on board at number 92. ‘APDM’ is short for ‘Au Pays Des Merveilles’ – the French for ‘In Wonderland’, which seems highly appropriate for this shop with its bright yellows and oranges, its chairs out on the pavement, and its tasteful choice of pictures for the walls.

Almost directly opposite, at number 57, the plain décor gives you an immediate sense of quality and passion. The premises are wholly dedicated to cookery and food. Pimpinelle bridges contemporary culinary creativity with traditional cookery. Not just in the food itself, but also in all the accompanying paraphernalia: utensils, books, objects, clothes – in short, anything that fosters friendly encounters and discussion about good food. With food you can sample as a bonus.

Rue Van Artevelde, which also lies in the Canal Area, is right next to the busier Rue des Chartreux and Rue Dansaert, at least where window-shopping is concerned, but it still attracts a lot of shoppers. At its very start, just by a bus stop and next to a fast food outlet, the discreet but beautiful display window of designer Natache Cadonici tempts you to walk in. A fashion designer by training, she has created her own collection of off-the-peg women’s clothing. Her aim is to promote new clothing brands in this district which already features many quality clothing outlets.

A tour “OpenSoon” of the Dansaert district’s premises leaves you with two main impressions: firstly, the sense that the diversity of businesses there is increasing; and secondly, the conviction that the numerous touches of modernity and creativity which now enliven old streets throughout this area are making the city centre and the Canal Area  more attractive places.


Jean-Pierre BORLOO