My hometown is Vilvoorde, a city with about 43,000 inhabitants neighboring the Belgian capital of Brussels and with a checkered past. Vilvoorde thrived during the Industrial Revolution due to the proximity to Brussels and the excellent transport infrastructure. Being one of the largest industrial areas around Brussels, the city remained successful until the late nineties when subsequent economic crises started to have an adverse effect on the economy. As a result, Vilvoorde received a rather grey and negative image which is sometimes propagated to this day. Local commercial policy (or the lack thereof) hasn’t been able to stop increasing shop vacancy in the main shopping street, which only aggravated the reputation. Lately a trend has been rising in our city next to the river Zenne. One that might point towards the answer for both the local economy and the city as a whole, if policy makers choose to see and address it. Let me tell you about Hipster Vilvoorde.
The first colorful initiative I can remember, personally, is the Cantina Caramba. Around twenty years ago, a Mexican bar serving cocktails and Tex-Mex food popped up in a nondescript street. A little bit out of the way, but successful nonetheless, it is still going strong and needs a reservation to get a table. Maybe not hip in the strictest sense, it did show Vilvoorde that it pays to be different.
Another seed was planted by the Mekitburn Festival, hosted at Vilvoorde’s majestic 3 Fonteinen (‘3 fountains’) parc. Apart from featuring musicians and deejays, Mekitburn also offers a moment in the spotlight for creative minds. Quite possibly, the idea of a creative Vilvoorde sparked here.
The next precursor to Hipster Vilvoorde was the MadTiger Shop. I’ll be the first to admit that I found the nifty-gadgets-and-creative-ideas shop to be alien to Vilvoorde when they opened up at their first location in our city’s shopping street. I’ll also admit that I misjudged. MadTiger has since evolved into Madlion and combined forces with the Vilvoorde city council and a real-estate developper to bring us De Kruitfabriek. Waiting for a completely new neighborhood to be developed in an old part of town, one of the industrial buildings has been transformed into a creative space. Workshops for artists, rehearsal space for bands, meeting place for locals, dancefloor for party people … it brings color and inspiration to locals.
It was through one of De Kruitfabriek‘s initiatives that I learned about Rook Motorfietsen. Indeed, our city has a custom vintage motorcycle shop.
Another illustration of local creative entrepreneurship is the urban clothing brand KET. Sweaters, tees and other apparel with prints that refer to local and Brussels dialect. Available online, in fashionable stores across the country or … locally at Oh My Shoes. The self-proclaimed fancy shoe store is one of the businesses that is bringing new life to the main shopping street.
Currently at the pinnacle of local hipster cool is Revolver 57, a bar-coffee-breakfast-brunch-place that will soon also offer hotel rooms as well. The quirky interior and original food and drink selection is worth a visit in itself.
The list keeps on going: there is Soep & Bokes (sandwiches and fresh soup, driven around on a cargo bike), Barbier shop (vintage-style barber shop), Mickles (gourmet food truck), the fresh milk van at saturday’s market, Soundboxes booking agency for upcoming artists, 18 inch soundsystem, … and more to come. It looks like the next step is Bazaar Trend Lab, a new concept store that will offer pop-up or shelf space to new artists and retail entrepreneurs.
My point is that there is strong indication of an emerging trend in Vilvoorde, which I would love to see nurtured by the City Council. In my personal opinion, the way forward is not to fight the many malls to be built in the area. By definition, being yet another city center with all the same chains and franchises cannot be a USP. Cultivating a culture of support for creative and upcoming entrepreneurs can. Let’s be the colorful hipster city, north of Brussels.
My personal resolution for 2017 is to help demonstrate the colorful character of Vilvoorde. More to come soon.