Everyone knows this one store in town that always changes. It used to be a café, but failed. Then it was opened again as a mexican restaurant, and you really wanted it to succeed, but after four months you walked by it and it was closed. Few weeks later, you read in a local paper that yet another café will be opened at the very same spot. The end of the story is obvious. This specific spot is totally jinxed, but entrepreneurs are sure they can make it there, believing that their own ability will bring them success.
In the downtown of Tel Aviv, Israel, I know several jinxed places. When I used to live there, I sometimes passed by one of those, seeing a young person, who probably spent all of his savings to open his dream café, renovating the cursed store he just rented. My heart goes out to him. I want to approach and say: “Achi (‘dude’ in Hebrew), it’s not gonna work. I’ve seen the previous five people that tried to do it at this spot. They have all failed”. In this imaginary conversation, that I never have the courage to start, he would reply “Look around, all the stores in the region are so successful. I will make it”. “Good luck,” I would say, “I hope it will work out”.
It won’t work out. Some places are known to be cursed. Why people call these stores “cursed”? because they fail despite seeming to be perfect: located in a vibrant neighborhood, surrounded by successful establishments, just waiting for the right person to open the next coolest place in town. People just can’t see any reason for this anomaly. And what do we do when we can’t see any rationality behind a recurring phenomenon? we turn to superstition.
A place cannot be cursed. I don’t believe in superstition. A place can be, at most, unsuitable for a certain type of business. While visiting in Tel Aviv, I went to one of my ‘favorite’ cursed stores, located at the corner of two relatively streets in the heart of the city. When talking with a friend of mine about jinxed spots, he reminded me to take a look at this corner. He used to go to the last two cafés in this location. Both of them offered a ‘loyalty’ punch-card (buy 10 coffees, get 1 for free), and both of them closed after few months. My friend is now stuck with two half-filled cards.
I arrived there on a sunny afternoon, and it seemed as if the place is still running. Maybe another fool fell for it? Upon closer examination I realised that not only it is not open, but also the last failure was probably pretty big one: they left almost everything inside.
Let’s go over the basic details: the store is located at the corner of two one-way streets: Ha-Khashmona'im and Kiryat Sefer. It has a welcoming front porch, hidden by a low fence and some plants. The Store’s interior space is relatively small, but no question that the porch got potential, since Tel Aviv’s weather is perfect for sitting outside all year round.
What could go wrong? To begin with, there are some unknown variables. It is possible, though very unlikely, that all the cafés that were opened here were objectively bad, meaning the coffee and food wasn’t tasty, that the prices were high, and that the staff was unfriendly. However, I was told that the two last places were actually really nice. Secondly, it might be the landlord, demanding too high rent for the store. It is possible, although I would have guessed that the rent would be reduced after several businesses have had closed there.
These two options might be the explanation, but since I don’t know it, I had to find something else, and I think I did. It lays under one of the streets, the wider one: Ha-Khashmona'im. The problem is that the street is too wide and too noisy. The café’s porch is so close to the driving cars that sitting there is just unpleasant.
The solution that immediately comes to mind is practice of some road diet. It is that easy. Make the road narrower, get rid of one or two lanes, add a bike lane, widen the sidewalks, and the businesses here will flourish. I even have proof, because few hundred meters down Ha-Khashmona'im street, there is another café that works great. As you can see in the picture to the left, in this section of the street, Ha-Khashmona'im has only one drive lane.
Just narrow the road! Easy, right? Sadly, Tel Aviv municipality will never do it, at least as long as their chief goal is to allow cars to drive through the city fast. Long story short: take a look at arrows I marked on the scheme below. Despite the fact that all the roads there accommodate 3 or 4 lanes, they are also 1-way roads. Instead of 30 km/h 2-way streets, the planners here decided to create freeways right in the city center. Cars that come from Ibn Gabirol Street and want to turn to Ha-Khashmona'im need make a detour, through which they can drive much faster. This practice became common during “mid-20th century, many 2-way downtown streets were converted to 1-way operation to streamline traffic operations, reduce conflicts, and create direct access points to newly built urban freeways” (National Association of City Transportation Officials - Urban street design guide).
In conclusion, whenever you hear about a "cursed" store, try to look around. superstitions might be interesting, but they can’t really explain why a business is failing.
(Pictures by Lior Steinberg)