Local Heroes #22 - Nel de Jager

A street full of squatters and junkies thirty years ago, is now one of Amsterdam’s most unique shopping areas. Thanks to some hard work of dedicated people.

Published by Guest on 23/01/2015

To coordinate such changes, certain people have taken the complex task upon them to manage some high traffic streets. One of them is Nel de Jager , pioneering shopping street manager of Haarlemmerbuurt since 1987.

201500121 Nel de Jager - Citinerary-0080 Shopping street manager Nel de Jager in ‘her street’ - Image courtesy of Tetsuro Photography

Last year, Haarlemmerdijk and- street have won the NLstreets Award for best shopping street. What defines a successful shopping street? The Haarlemmerstraat is economically strong. Economically strong doesn’t mean that a lot of money is earned, but it does mean that we don’t have any vacancies. Streets have to keep their dynamics to stay attractive. It’s not a bad thing if a shop leaves. But if it does, you have to take a step back. For example, if the street is doing well, real estate agents will tell property owners to increase their rent. Well, if that happens, you lose the access for starting entrepreneurs. A shopping street is not solely about making money, it’s also about the liveability of the neighbourhood.

201500121 Nel de Jager - Citinerary-0178 Nel de Jager - Image courtesy of Tetsuro Photography

What does a shopping street manager do? What I do is keeping shopping streets economically in order. Actually it’s a kind of community work. Because you need residents, you also need property owners, you need the municipality and you need entrepreneurs. You have to continuously earn the trust of people. Together with people involved, you come up with initiatives all the time, but you also try to realise those together.

“It was full of squatters and junkies. The average entrepreneur didn’t want to be here.”

How did you start out in Haarlemmerbuurt as a shopping street manager avant la lettre?

I have lived here in the past. And I found it an incredibly nice neighbourhood. There was a really good vibe, despite the fact that it was full of squatters and junkies at the time. I was asked by an old classmate of the workgroup shop management. And I just started. The average entrepreneur didn’t want to be here. So I started looking for unique shops. Through my work as urban renewal consultant, I already cycled through the whole city. And I thought: what nice shops, at totally wrong locations. And I just asked them: "Wouldn’t you want to be in de Haarlemmerstraat? You fit right in."

201500121 Nel de Jager - Citinerary-0120

One of the many shops on the Haarlemmerdijk - Image courtesy of Tetsuro Photography

How would you now describe the Haarlemmerbuurt now? I still find it unique. Exceptional. Blended. You can get everything here, but at a small-scale level. You can eat, stay, go out, be entertained. You can shop or do your groceries. But if you don’t like that, you’ve got architecture. There are monuments from 1700. Buildings that are exceptionally beautiful.

201500121 Nel de Jager - Citinerary-0157 Nel de Jager with Haarlemmerstraat’s always busy traffic in in the background- Image courtesy of Tetsuro Photography

What made you do this work voluntarily the first 15 years? I had a paid job. I worked in Rotterdam and partly in Amsterdam. There just wasn’t any money. At a certain point we got 5000 guilders (almost 2300 euros) in subsidies from Economic Affairs to start out with. And I believed that that should be spent in the neighbourhood. Of course I have to earn money, but my love for the city is just very big. And my passion in it is great. But you could compare that to any other entrepreneur. If he would calculate how much he actually earns with the hours he works, an entrepreneur would quit. Because eventually, there’s not a penny left. You see that people are working from a passion and that’s what I find important.

Thank you, Nel de Jager, for sharing some light on just a few of the many things a shopping street manager has to deal with.

- Glynis -

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