City shuts down sausage stalls
Wenceslas Square vendors pass deadline for closing up shop
Posted: February 13, 2013
City Hall has ordered the stands lining Wenceslas Square to close, citing plans to regenerate the iconic square and increase the space for pedestrians.
By Michael Finnigan
For the Post
For years, they have provided warm sustenance to Prague residents and tourists on bitterly cold winter evenings. But the food and drinks stalls on Wenceslas Square may have served their final sausages and fried cheese sandwiches, as the city authorities have ordered them to close in preparation for a major regeneration project.
Instead of attracting residents with their brightly lit displays of meat and other foods, the stalls are now shuttered and covered with homemade petitions and damning appraisals of City Hall's actions. In a poignant vision, the last stall, now operating illegally and without water, often has a string quartet busking nearby.
Prague City Hall filed a series of lawsuits Feb. 6 against Wenceslas Square's last remaining street stalls in the hope legal action would persuade the protesting street vendors to close up shop once and for all. It has also initiated administrative proceedings and threatened to place sanctions on any business the entrepreneurs may undertake in the future.
Recent events are the latest in a long line of moves taken to force street stalls to close, including shutting off their water and placing 10,000 Kč a day fines on those that remain open.
"The contract relationship with the stand keepers ended Dec. 31, 2012, which is why the drinking water has been cut off," said Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda. "So there is no longer any reason to continue, and the situation should now be controlled by the official authorities, like those for hygiene."
While the stalls were meant to close at the end of the year, City Hall granted vendors a grace period until mid-January. Weeks later, however, the remaining traders appeared keen to remain open for as long as possible.
"Business is a little slower in winter, but our customers have been really supportive. We have 5,000 to 6,000 signatures," said a female stallholder who preferred to remain anonymous, referring to the number of people who had signed a petition against the closures.
Many of Prague's tourists and residents are disappointed by the closure of the stalls. Adam Allport, a product designer at Loudmark, described the closure of the stalls as "a real shame."
"They were one of the first things I experienced when I arrived here, and they've been a welcome treat ever since," he said. "If I was working for City Hall I'd be far more concerned about the drug pushers and thieves that bring down the tone of Wenceslas Square and make sure that tourists feel safe in the square instead."
In place of the street stalls, City Hall has proposed plans for two square glass kiosks that will offer refreshments, newspapers and flowers. The new designs will complement regeneration plans laid out by Cigler Marani Architects, and existing vendors will be able to bid for the spots. But competition is expected to be fierce.
The regeneration aims to increase tree cover, reduce traffic and allow more space for pedestrians. Work is expected to commence this summer.
Michael Finnigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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