“Would you rather it be like a decade ago when half the storefronts were empty and run-down?”
Over the course of my decade living in 101, I’ve heard or read some iteration of that rebuttal to any complaint made about the lack of variety of shops and services on Reykjavík’s main drag, Laugavegur, countless times. The argument equates to saying residents of 101 should be happy with long stretches of shop windows filled with stuffed puffins, factory-knit-in-China “lopapeysa,” and 3-for-2 T-shirts, because the only alternative is a return to post-collapse doom and gloom.
I was here then. It looked grim. Laugavegur wasn’t lined with recently renovated and re-built-to-still-look-historic buildings. But, the less visually-appealing buildings of 2008 and 2009 housed craft stores, corner shops, fish mongers, and more. Places for the residents of 101 to purchase goods and services without leaving the city centre.
Stroll down Laugavegur today and roughly a third of the storefronts are vacant (they’re just more aesthetically pleasing, with windows shrouded by crisp brown paper rather than surplus Grapevines). The street LOOKS great, sure. But landlords are so consumed with greed that the only businesses that can afford rent are those selling cheap imported goods at a massive mark-up to tourists, and restaurateurs charging exorbitant prices for basic meals because they care more about bleeding the most out of tourists than building repeat patronage of locals.
I’d like to see landlords who leave their properties vacant rather than renting at more sustainable prices heavily fined for every week of vacancy. If nobody can afford your rent, maybe you’re the problem.
The Miðbær Residents’ Association is so concerned about the state of the city centre that they’re hosting a town hall discussion this month with local business owners, landlords and residents to address the issue of vacant storefronts and dearth of amenities for downtown dwellers.
Laugavegur may not have been pretty a decade ago, but if it means being able to purchase goods and services locally, then yes, I’d rather a return to doom and gloom. It’s pretty damn gloomy for residents now anyhow.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!