Buses full of young people once came to De Grent, but now the discotheques are empty

Buses full of young people once came to De Grent, but now the discotheques are empty

The friends of Elliott Dekker (53) thought it was crazy. Starting a restaurant at De Grent in Noordwijk aan Zee. “They said: what should you put in a pipe drawer like that?” They mainly associated the former disco street with dark, long-running buildings. Moreover, a street that is no longer what it once was. Where few people come in recent years.

It didn’t seem like a logical place for a restaurant. But when the owner of the building, which used to be a dance bar, asked Dekker if he wanted to start something else in the business, things started to itch. He saw opportunities for a hip, luxurious restaurant, where a DJ plays records after dinner. Dekker also feels connected to the place. “I used to come here myself, with friends from Wassenaar.”

Everyone from the bulb region has memories of the traditional nightlife of the seaside resort of Noordwijk aan Zee: the first drunkenness, the first time tongues. In the eighties and nineties, the street – dunes on one side, clubs on the other – was considered the area’s nightlife spot. During the weekend, thousands of young people visited De Grent, from Leiden to Roelofarendsveen.

Visitor numbers have since fallen. Businesses go bankrupt. Are buildings empty. Due to the changing nightlife behavior of young people and the increasing regulation of alcohol and tobacco use, the entertainment strip lost its appeal. De Grent, where there are still a handful of clubs, now has a “moderate future perspective”, the municipality of Noordwijk wrote in its catering vision a few weeks ago. This presents the municipality and entrepreneurs with a challenge: what to do with this street?

Vacationing Teens

Thirty barrels of beer went through it in a week at The Champ. Owner Nico Spek effortlessly recovers the numbers: 1,500 liters per week, 750 guests in one evening. “In the summer also on Mondays and Tuesdays.”

The cafes on De Grent didn’t have to do their best to find customers in the 1990s. The Bob and the Seahorse threw open their doors and young people from all over the region poured in. Taxi vans dropped young people in the entertainment street. Teenagers on holiday invariably cycled from the campsite to Noordwijk aan Zee.

Noordwijk aan Zee was not the largest town in the region, but there was something for everyone on this street. From the outside, the cafes and discos all look like the same “dark cages”, says Spek, but in practice they differed from each other. Each bar had its own clientele. The youngsters went to the Bob, bulb growers to The Champ, The Grand was for people from the city and cockroaches were in the Zeepaardje, says Spek. “You had to wear a three-piece suit.”

That worked fine for years. Entrepreneurs earned well, customers enjoyed. If they weren’t inside, then outside on the sidewalk with a cigarette. That lasted until the middle of the first decade of this century.

Vacancy in De Grent. Photo David van Dam

“You used to be able to do two things when you were sixteen: go to hockey and go out, that’s all,” says Robert Ruigrok, owner of club HOME until 2019. “Now young people go out for lunch and dinner three or four times a week. The way of going out has changed. And they have internet.”

Festivals became popular and stricter smoking and drinking rules caused the popularity of discos to decline. That didn’t just happen at De Grent. The disco is disappearing in the Netherlands from small towns and villages. Over the past ten years, the number of discotheques has almost halved to 174, concluded catering consultancy Van Spronsen & Partners in 2017. This trend has continued in recent years.

There are simply more opportunities to spend money, says Robert Ruigrok. Decades ago, if a visitor spent around 50 euros in one evening, in 2019 that was a tenner, according to him.

At De Grent they tried to save what could be saved. Special evenings in The Champ were supposed to attract more crowds. ‘Sexy Sundays’, wet T-shirt contests, from ’98 to 2008 it worked fine, says Spek. “But if I do the same thing three weeks in a row, customers start to complain.”

Photo David van Dam

The “death blow” came around 2010, according to Spek and Ruigrok. The beach bars – no longer outdated beach pavilions, but hip beach clubs with well-known DJs – were allowed to remain in place all year round. After a day at the beach, young people look for such a beach tent around six o’clock in the evening. When they close at noon, Ruigrok jokes, their money is gone. “Or they don’t feel like going to De Grent anymore.”

Many tents on De Grent have closed their doors in recent years. Robert Ruigrok stopped with HOME in 2019. And The Champ – located at De Grent for 35 years – is also about to fall, according to owner Nico Spek. “I want to find someone to take over. I have two cases, the other is down the road. When the doors are allowed to open again, I want to focus on one of the two.” He fears the uncertainty about when that will be, and the rules that will apply: for example, how many people are allowed in per square metre?

“You used to be able to do two things when you were sixteen: go to hockey and go out, there was nothing more”
Robert Ruigrok, former owner of club HOME

Dilemma for municipality

The developments at De Grent present the municipality of Noordwijk with a dilemma. Noordwijk aan Zee is not very flourishing in many places and is struggling with decay and a messy streetscape. A ‘master plan’ should change this in the coming years. The fact that the buildings on De Grent are empty – close to the beach – is inconvenient.

“You can wonder whether the destination ‘hard catering’ is still realistic,” says alderman Roberto ter Hark (Economics, VVD). Now only clubs and party cafes are allowed at De Grent. Ter Hark believes that the municipality should consider allowing other catering establishments, such as cafes with terraces. “We still want to invest in De Grent.”

The municipality sees plenty of opportunities on the former entertainment strip, which is centrally located in the touristic part of Noordwijk aan Zee. For example, the municipality of De Grent would like to incorporate it into its project to turn Noordwijk into a luxurious and healthy health resort. According to the hospitality vision, “the connection” between a spa town and the old nightlife street seems “far-fetched, (…) yet there are certainly opportunities.” For example, restaurants can start selling local products.

Dekker came up with an intermediate form: eating and then going out. Just before the corona crisis, he opened NICE by Elliott: a restaurant with a hard catering permit, so that you can dance later in the evening. Only the floor of the old dance bar remained. Luxurious lounge sofas and subdued lighting characterize the store. Sole, fries with truffle mayo and lobster soup are on Dekker’s menu. The start was not brilliant, Dekker could really use the rental discount from the property owner. His clients so far have mainly been people he knows from the catering establishments where he has worked in the past.

Dekker is hopeful that his concept at De Grent has a future. Research shows that the ‘mixed’ form of eating and going out is doing relatively well as a replacement for the classic disco. Nico Spek of The Champ: “Eating and then a picture: it is a different kind of audience, people of forty, fifty years. They come and say: I used to have such a good time at De Grent.”

NICE by Elliott, by Elliott Dekker. A restaurant with a hard catering license, so that you can dance later in the evening. Photo David van Dam

Buses full of young people once came to De Grent, but now the discotheques are empty
Source link Buses full of young people once came to De Grent, but now the discotheques are empty

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