Archive for May, 2018

European Commission Reacts to the US Restrictions on Steel and Aluminium Affecting the EU

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Brussels, 31 May 2018

The US announced that starting on 1 June 2018 it will impose additional duties of 25 % and 10 % respectively on imports of steel and aluminium from the EU.

President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I am concerned by this decision. The EU believes these unilateral US tariffs are unjustified and at odds with World Trade Organisation rules. This is protectionism, pure and simple. Over the past months we have continuously engaged with the US at all possible levels to jointly address the problem of overcapacity in the steel sector. Overcapacity remains at the heart of the problem and the EU is not the source of but on the contrary equally hurt by it. That is why we are determined to work towards structural solutions together with our partners. We have also consistently indicated our openness to discussing ways to improve bilateral trade relations with the US but have made it clear that the EU will not negotiate under threat. By targeting those who are not responsible for overcapacities, the US is playing into the hands of those who are responsible for the problem. The US now leaves us with no choice but to proceed with a WTO dispute settlement case and with the imposition of additional duties on a number of imports from the US. We will defend the Union’s interests, in full compliance with international trade law.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstr?m said: “Today is a bad day for world trade. We did everything to avoid this outcome. Over the last couple of months I have spoken at numerous occasions with the US Secretary of Commerce. I have argued for the EU and the US to engage in a positive transatlantic trade agenda, and for the EU to be fully, permanently and unconditionally exempted from these tariffs. This is also what EU leaders have asked for. Throughout these talks, the US has sought to use the threat of trade restrictions as leverage to obtain concessions from the EU. This is not the way we do business, and certainly not between longstanding partners, friends and allies. Now that we have clarity, the EU’s response will be proportionate and in accordance with WTO rules. We will now trigger a dispute settlement case at the WTO, since these US measures clearly go against agreed international rules. We will also impose rebalancing measures and take any necessary steps to protect the EU market from trade diversion caused by these US restrictions.”

Background

The US measures affect EU exports worth €6.4 billion in 2017. While striving to avoid today’s situation, the EU has been preparing over the last months and stands now ready to react to the US trade restrictions on steel and aluminium in a swift, firm, proportionate and fully WTO-compatible manner.

The EU will launch legal proceedings against the US in the WTO on 1 June. This was decided by the College of Commissioners on 29 May and Member States were consulted on the same day. The US measures are primarily intended to protect the US domestic industry from import competition, clearly at odds with WTO rules. In addition to the WTO dispute settlement we are launching against the US measures, we have also coordinated action in this field with other affected partners.

As regards the US tariff measures, the EU will use the possibility under WTO rules to rebalance the situation by targeting a list of US products with additional duties. The level of tariffs to be applied will reflect the damage caused by the new US trade restrictions on EU products. The list of US products is ready: it was consulted with European stakeholders and supported by Member States. The EU notified its potential rebalancing to the WTO on 18 May and, in line with the Organisation rules, could trigger them 30 days later. The Commission will now in coordination with Member States take a formal decision to proceed with the rebalancing.

The Commission is determined to shield the EU steel and aluminium markets from damage caused by additional imports that might be coming into the EU as a result of the closure of the US market. An investigation towards possible imposition of safeguard measures on steel was launched on 26 March. The Commission has nine months to decide whether safeguard measures would be necessary. This decision could also be taken much earlier in the proceedings, if the investigation confirms the necessity for swift action. The Commission has also put in place a surveillance system for imports of aluminium to be prepared in case action will be required in that sector.

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What is Mix and How Do I Use it for My Business?

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

What is Mix and How I Do I Use it?

On June 30, 2018, StumbleUpon is moving to Mix. And the new platform has a few features that might be of interest to small business owners and entrepreneurs. Similar to StumbleUpon, the social network site that helps users discover unique and interesting things across the web, Mix provides a new way to discover and save people’s favorite things on the internet.

What is Mix?

Mix is created and provided by the makers of StumbleUpon. Like StumbleUpon, Mix is part of the Expa family. Expa works with proven founders to develop and launch new companies. Expa was founded by Garret Camp, co-founder of Uber and StumbleUpon.

Built upon the legacy of StumbleUpon, Mix enables you to curate and share the best of the internet. The platform learns what you love browsing and searching for across the web, to show you even more of what you are interested in.

So entrepreneurs and small business owners can use this site either as a research tool to learn more about their industry and passions, as a networking tool to connect with partners and customers who share their interests or as another way of sharing their content with a specific target audience.

From articles and images to videos and music, you can save anything from anywhere on Mix. As long as it’s on the internet, you can add your favorite things to Mix.

The social media platform enables you to delve deeper into new topics and explore interests with greater comprehension. Rather than being merely a source for breaking news, Mix is aimed at taking its users deeper into the things that interest and matter to them, helping them learn more about their favorite topics and discover new and interesting things.

On this interactive and engaging online discovery site, you can share what you find with other users who have similar interests.

How Do You Use Mix?

You need to set up an account with Mix to be able to start using the site. You can set up a Mix profile with a StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter or Google account. When setting up on Mix, you’ll need to tell the site what you are passionate about surfing on the internet, in order for Mix to provide you with the news, information and recommendations you’re interested in.

The different categories of interest include cooking, technology, popular culture, travel, space, healthy living, nature, history, lifehacks, the environment, activism, art, outdoors, fashion and much, much more. Based on your selections, Mix then provides you with relevant stories and information from around the web to enlighten you about your passions.

You can create your own profile on Mix, including a bio and image. From your profile, you can post content and share it across the Mix platform, as well as onto other social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. You can also email posts on Mix to chosen recipients.

Like other social media platforms, Mix is centered on interacting with other users by following people with shared interests and passions and growing your own list of followers.

It is important to note that Mix should not be confused with Mixx. Similar to Mix, Mixx was a user-driven social media site that enabled users to find content based on their interests. Through articles, images and videos, Mixx allowed users to search, discover and share media relevant to their interests and interact with other users. In 2011, Mixx became Chime.in, which has since terminated its services.

The new company Mix.com is built on content discovery. Garret Camp, Expa’s CEO, spoke of the ethos of this new content exploration site.

“Mix’s mission is to connect the curious with the creative, delivering personalized recommendations one click at a time. Mix will provide a modern and elegant way to discover the best content like by friends and experts, from across the web to your mobile device.”

Have you registered yet on Mix.com? We’d love to here what you think about the site.

Image: StumbleUpon

This article, “What is Mix and How Do I Use it for My Business?” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Brent-WTI oil spread rises above $11 for first time since 2015

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

US price discount reflects pipeline constraints as shale production booms

10 Gelato and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

In 2016, gelato accounted for approximately 5% of the $14.3 billion U.S. ice cream market. So, opening a gelato and shaved ice business can prove lucrative for entrepreneurs.

Still, like any business, starting from scratch can be challenging, particularly when it comes to competing with large gelato chains. One option is to become a gelato and shaved ice franchisee and open a store with an established brand.

Gelato and ice cream franchises have experienced massive growth over past five years leading up to 2017, according to one published report.

Starting from a humble porch in Philly Rita’s Italian Ice went on to become an international phenomenon with more than 600 locations across the U.S. and around the world. The brand remains a testament to the huge demand for gelato and shaved ice and the potential success of franchising within this industry.

Gelato Franchises to Consider

Of course you could always choose from a number of other franchises besides Rita’s when seeking a successful gelato or shaved ice opportunity with an established brand.

Gelato Go

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

An established gelateria brand throughout America, Gelato Go, offers franchising opportunities for proactive and determined entrepreneurs looking for a share of the profitable gelato market. A total investment of $183,500 to $400,100 is required to open a Gelato Go store. And franchisees will receive comprehensive training.

Papalani Gelato

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

Papalani Gelato serves gelato, frozen yoghurt, sorbetto and many more iced goodies across the U.S. The company offers franchise opportunities in the U.S., encouraging people to start their own fun and rewarding business. Depending on where you open a Papalani Gelato business, the costs can range from $152,475 to $478,550.

Amorino

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

Amorino provides Italian gelato available in a whole host of flavors, with customers being able to create their own Amorino rose gelato. Amorino gelaterias are available to franchise across America. The company looks for impassioned self-starters who are keen to contribute to the success of Amorino. Details about franchise costs are available upon application.

Shaved Ice Franchises to Consider

Mustache Mike’s Italian Ice

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

Mustache Mike’s Italian Ice manufactures Italian ice in California and then distributes it throughout the U.S. This popular Italian ice brand offers franchise opportunities the company describes as simple, flexible and providing excellent profit margins. The company doesn’t charge franchise fees and as the products are non-dairy, there are no health department issues.

Kona Ice

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

Kona Ice is another shaved ice opportunity in the U.S., with more than 800 shaved ice truck franchises across the country. An investment of $110,750, includes a franchise fee, inventory pack and truck.  The company seeks a strong, personal commitment and an active involvement in opening the business in order to become a Kona Ice truck franchisee.

Bahama Buck’s

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

Bahama Buck’s offers opportunities to run a shaved ice and tropical dessert shop for entrepreneurs wanting to surround themselves with fresh ingredients and innovative products. Bahama Buck’s says its franchising system is a proven ‘Plan to Win’, with support given by a team of professionals with experience in developing people and products. The initial cost for a Bahama Buck’s franchise ranges from $233,326 to $770,532.

Hokulia Shave Ice

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

If you fancy putting your flipflops on and working at the beach each day, then why not open a Hokulia Shave Ice store in a sunny location. Hokulia is one of the nation’s premier shaved ice and tropical dessert franchises. Franchisees need to make an initial investment of $81,500 to $133,500 covering start-up costs, equipment, inventory, payroll and ongoing support.

Tikiz

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

Another shaved ice truck franchise, Tikiz, has been offering opportunities for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses since 2012. With a financial investment of between $132,000 and $144,000, you too could be selling shaved ice and other frozen products from a Tikiz truck, which comes with a top-of-the-line high output ice shaver.

Wanna Chill?

10 Gelato Franchises and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s

From shaved ice to frozen yoghurt, smoothies to acai bowls, Wanna Chill? offers another growing shaved ice brand. The company offers three franchising options: a cart you can tow, a food truck, or a Wanna Chill? store. Investment requirements vary depending on which of these three franchise options you choose, ranging from a $51,000 initial investment to around $186,000.

Ohana Bros

Inspired by the world travels of the Ohano Bros Surfer Dudes, Ohano Bros stores specialize in Hawaiian shave ice and a variety of other products. For an investment ranging from $192,670 to $368,070, entrepreneurs with enthusiasm to sell shaved ice can grab themselves an Ohana Bros franchise business.

Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “10 Gelato and Shaved Ice Franchises to Compete with Rita’s” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Strike price for Wylfa nuclear plant far lower than Hinkley Point

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Ministers expected to announce outline agreement next week

New Drop of Unemployment in Bulgaria

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

New drop of unemployment in Bulgaria. In April it is 5.1% – the lowest level since 2008, according to Eurostat data.

Compared to March, the decrease is by 0.1% and on an annual basis compared to April 2017 – by 1.2%.

The unemployed in Bulgaria during the last fourth months was a total of 177 000 people, or 34 000 less than in April 2017 and 3000 less on a monthly basis.

Youth unemployment has also fallen to 10.1 percent. For one year it shrunk by 3.8 percent. A total of 18,000 young people under 25 were unemployed in April.

Unemployment across the European Union remains unchanged on a monthly basis, again at 7.1%. Compared to April 2017, however, a decrease of 0.7 percent was reported.

In the euro area, the unemployment fell slightly to around 8.5% in March 2018. On an annual basis, however, there was again a decrease by 0.7 percent.

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A Man from Haskovo Murdered His Wife and His Neighbor

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

The prosecutor’s office in Haskovo accused 46-year-old Gunay Mustafa an intentional murder. The man who is from Kozlec (Haskovo) yesterday shot his wife and his neighbor with his legal hunting rifle.

Today, the 46-year-old man has made full confessions of the case, Darik said.

On Wednesday, Gunay Mustafa killed his wife with his rifle in front of his children, and then he killed his neighbor, Mehmed Mehmed.

The police reported that the crime was probably committed by jealousy.

Today, the 24 hours of Gunay Mustafa’s arrest have passed. The prosecution imposed a 72-hour arrest and charged him.

Witnesses were interviewed, forensic, chemical and forensic psychiatric expertise appointed.

Investigators have found that Gunay has shot three times with the weapon. His wife was killed with a shot in the chest, and Mehmed was shot in the back.

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One of the Most Beautiful Towns in the World, Could Become the First Major City Remained without Drinking Water.

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Cape Town in South Africa, that is one of the most beautiful towns in the world, could become the first major city remained without drinking water.

Would you manage to lead a normal lifestyle with 50 liters of water per day? This is the amount of water that a citizen of Cape Town can use overnight. For comparison, between 100 liters and 300 liters a day is the average human consumption in the world.

50 liters of water per day is definitely not enough - a 2-minute shower is about 20 liters, twice washing hands and face (4 liters), a single release of water in the toilet (6 liters),  dishwashing (9 liters), twice washing teeth (0, 3 liters), two times cooking (1.8 liters), eight glasses of water (2 liters) and water for pets (2 liters).

It sounds easy to perform until it is applied in practice and you realize how much water every person uses. To stick to this constraint, you must completely change your habits. For some, such restrictions require a great deal of effort. For me, as a person who always saves water, no matter where he is, the changes were minimal and easily adapted to the “new norm”.

Day zero, in which all the water sources in the city would dry in Cape Town called, was expected to be in April 2018. Since the East Cape rulers did not have an adequate plan for such a catastrophe, the only way to avoid such a scenario was the citizens who have to save maximum water.

Here’s how it works:

The morning shower is limited to one minute if you afford this luxury at all. Many people bathe with an alarm that signals the end of the shower. Water always stops when people use the soap. Sometimes the shower does not run at all, but a small bucket is used, which is sufficient for a quick refreshment.

If you still want to use the shower, there is always a bucket beneath it, in which you collect water. This water is used for the toilet. In some households, the water to the toilet is completely stopped, and the cistern is filled with so-called “gray water”. Bricks are often placed in the cistern to reduce the space that is filled with water. It’s insane when you realize how much water you use for a toilet release when you actually need less than half.

The dishes are washed very creatively, and when cooking, everyone tries to use a minimal amount of water. People don’t even think about a washing machine and they wash dishes once a week.

In some offices, the water is completely stopped and only the one that is brought from the water posts is used. In all public toilets have been placed signs which encourage water saving. The hands are not washed, but a sanitary gel is used. In the major hotels and fitness centers the sauna premises are closed, and a warning message on the airport is repeated, asking visitors to the city to observe the restrictions.

The drought, unfortunately, is not only a problem only in Cape Town but also in many other regions of South Africa. South Africa is the 30th most dry country in the world. As a result of the warming and the drought of the Earth, many large cities around the world are endangered by the fate of Cape Town.

Unlike in Bulgaria, where there is winter with snow, spring, and autumn rains, and sometimes even during the summer, in the Cape Town region, the amount of water is determined only by the rainy season. It is during the winter, which starts with full force from June to August.

Cape Town water saving attempts are made in 2015 when the city experienced its first very dry winter. Scientists from the University of Cape Town have been warning the authorities for years that a period of drought is set. This is due to many factors – 100-year climate cycling, El Nino, and unpredictable climate change. As early as June 2017, Cape Town had only 10% of usable water remaining.

All this in combination with the constant flood of incoming people who do not have water-saving habits contributes to complicating the problem. Moreover, 60% of the city’s population does not even try to save water.

The question is why there was no adequate plan to deal with the situation until now, why they only rely on rainfall and water saving? Why do  households that do not save water aren’t sanctioned and what happens to water desalination stations that should be used in emergency situations and can process water from the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean that surround Cape Town? When will the golf courses or spa centers stop wasting huge amounts of water?

In the rich neighborhoods, the lack of water means the end of the aromatic baths, watering of large gardens and the end of luxury pools, and in ghettos where there is no sewerage, it means a boom of epidemics and lethal viruses that will sooner or later reach the interior part of the city.

In April, Cape Town did not meet its biggest fear. Whether as a result of the general efforts of citizens to save water, a miracle, or, as other people suspect because of certain political strategies, but somehow for the day zero people do not speak anymore. Now everyone is counting on the rains expected during the winter, which will begin in a few days, as well as on the first desalination plant in Stradftain, East Cape, which officially began ocean water treatment.

 

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A Guide to Boston Startups

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Sponsored Post

The Boston Startup Scene

Boston recently ranked first among the top 25 startup hubs in America. Discover some of the elements that make Boston an ideal place for entrepreneurs.

In the past, Boston has been an underestimated player in the startup scene. However, it recently ranked first among the top 25 startup hubs in America, according to a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and startup incubator 1776. The findings are based on talent, specialization, capital, density, connectivity, and cultural statistics, among other data. “Boston earned the top spot by having clear emphasis on next generation tech companies specializing in education, energy and healthcare industries,” according to the Boston Business Journal.

Not only is the city of Boston a startup hub, next-door neighbor Cambridge is thriving, thanks in part to the plethora of world-class universities located nearby. Facebook and Microsoft are just two of the most famous examples to come from the intellectual capital of the United States. That’s one of the reasons tech leaders are taking notice of the area’s impressive growth. Companies like Amazon and Twitter have opened headquarters on the East Coast or established offices in Boston.

The Boston Startup Scene

The Boston Startup Scene

In addition to high quality of life ratings and a welcoming regulatory environment for startups, Boston has a lot to offer. Because of critical factors like a collaborative community and innovative business concepts, its growth as a startup hub is expected to continue. There are many elements that make Boston an ideal place for entrepreneurs and startups. Here are just a few:

Access to Venture Capital

For companies looking for access to startup funds, the city is ideal. Boston has topped the charts alongside California for the most venture capital per capita invested in the U.S.,” according to the Startup Institute. This figure increased 37 percent in 2014, as Massachusetts companies raised $4.2 billion in venture capital funding.

Its status as a startup hub makes Boston highly attractive to investors. Numerous “super-angels and angel groups” have institutionalized, creating a broader set of seed-stage funds, according to investment capital firm NextView Ventures. “A handful of industry-focused funds have also burst onto the scene. These promise to add significant expertise and capital,” NextView Ventures says.

Spirit of Innovation

Boston’s tech giants, top-tier universities, and medical centers are constantly driving new developments in technology, energy, culture, politics, education, health care, and more. Boston’s startup culture makes it a hotbed for growth and new ideas. Even companies in the early stages are growing fast, hiring larger staffs, and boosting the local economy.

A collaborative approach to entrepreneurship means that more established enterprises continue to drive innovation, working with local talent and smaller startups to create what The Next Web calls “a tech mecca.” Top-tier universities also contribute to the area’s startup culture with new ideas and the latest research.

The Boston Startup Scene

An Ecosystem of Support

There are more than 40 university and industry incubators and accelerators throughout the state of Massachusetts, The Next Web points out. This means that entrepreneurs have access to the resources they need for success.

Local government is playing an important role as well: “City Hall has built programs that support startups to help Boston evolve into a world-class tech ecosystem, including the hiring of the first ‘Startup Czar,’ an advocate for the city’s entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses,” The Next Web continues.

Boston also offers other resources. Professional services like legal, public relations, and finance abound, so Boston startups have access to the support they need. In addition, companies like Techstars BostonMassChallenge, and Startup Institute Boston provide guidance and other resources to first-time founders and entrepreneurs. These programs provide selected early-stage ventures with office space, capital, mentorship, peers, industry connections, investor introductions, and other support. In addition, Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), founded in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, supports more than 1,000 companies in the startup community by providing infrastructure and co-working space. CIC has also expanded to include a Boston center.

The Boston Startup Scene

The Talent Pool

As home to more universities than any other city in the United States, Boston is full of well-educated young professionals — 39.2 percent of adults ages 18 to 34 in Boston have a bachelor’s degree. The city is also home to many of the top STEM schools in the country. This means that a large amount of tech research and development is taking place locally.

The talent pool feeds an impressive tech sector workforce as well. JLL’s 2015 Technology Office Outlook report found that Boston is second only to Silicon Valley. The Boston Redevelopment Authority Research Division’s Boston’s Economy report in 2015 also found that employment in high tech industries has grown 9 percent each year since 2010. Consequently, there is a wealth of both raw and seasoned talent to choose from in the area.

Women Are Major Players

Boston has a positive startup climate for women, with female-led startups in mobile, health care, finance, and other industries. Statewide, there was a 21.4 percent growth rate of women in tech between 2009 and 2013, putting Massachusetts second among competing tech states, The Next Web reports.

Twenty-nine percent of startup founders in the city are female — second only to Chicago, which has 30 percent female founders, according to the Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking report. For example, the CEOs of Boston startups like Baroo and Care.com are female, and more than 10 percent of companies “invested in by some top venture capital firms are women founded in Boston,” according to Alice Rossiter, founder of Alice’s Table. Considering the average is 3 percent, this statistic is indicative of the important role women play in the Boston startup culture.

The Boston Startup Scene

5 Boston Startups

The following are just a few of the many startups that call Boston home. Their industries range from fitness to utilities, but each business is focused on innovation and bringing new ideas to the marketplace.

  • Circle was founded in 2013 by Jeremy Allaire, who also helped create online video platform Brightcove. This venture aims to bring digital currency like bitcoin into mainstream commerce by “building products to make it easier for consumers and merchants to accept the currency,” according to Mashable.
  • Runkeeper is a fitness app that allows users to track their workouts. It was founded in 2009 and was cofounded by Michael Sheeley, who later began working with another area startup, Mobee.
  • Boundless was founded by Aaron White, Ariel Diaz, and Brian Balfour in 2011. Its goal is to help students save money by offering free online textbooks and “high-quality content from the Web,” Business Insider says.
  • WegoWise focuses on reducing energy and water usage by gathering utility information and sharing it with users. The company was founded in 2010 by Edward Connelly, DeWitt Jones, and Barun Singh. WegoWise aims to “make buildings more energy efficient and to simultaneously save customers money,” according to Planted, an online talent community.
  • Whole Heart Provisions is a vegan fast-casual restaurant founded in 2015 by chef Rebecca Arnold and restauranteur James DiSabatino. Whole Heart Provisions offers healthy food options in a quick-serve setting for an affordable price.

From examples like these, it’s clear that startups in Boston are thriving. The city offers “a passionate and talented workforce and an abundance of investors and government support—all the things that position this city as a high-tech force to be reckoned with,” The Next Web says.

The Path to Success

Lesley University’s online business degree programs are ideal for those looking to create innovative business ventures like the ones featured here. Lesley’s online BS in Business Management features a curriculum focused on management skills that prepare graduates for a variety of business careers.

Lesley also offers an online MS in Management degree. This program prepares graduates to become business leaders. It uses a multidimensional approach to leadership that helps students develop the skills for successful entrepreneurship.

Republished by permission. Original here.

Photo via Lesley University

Photo via Shutterstock

This article, “A Guide to Boston Startups” was first published on Small Business Trends

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NYT: Breathing New Life Into Bulgaria’s Cold War Bunkers

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Klek, or squat, shops, in former basement bunkers in Bulgaria’s capital are evolving with the times, transforming into modern shops, artist studios and speakeasies.

Every day for the past 20 years, Lyudmil Kutev has lumbered three stories down the crumbling concrete steps of his Sofia apartment, descended into a basement Cold War bunker packed floor to ceiling with shoes, and swung open a rusty window panel just inches from the sidewalk.

“My father hid here during the Allied bombing,” Mr. Kutev said, polishing a pair of loafers in the cramped space and peering up at the feet of those passing by outside. “And in the last years of Communism, he hid this shoe-repair business down here, too.”

Below Sofia’s Ottoman mosques, Red Army monuments, and onion-domed churches, some of the most intriguing relics of this city’s tangled past are lurking just below the sidewalk — and you’ll have to crouch down and peer through tiny windows to find them.

Known as klek, or squat shops, these knee-high ateliers and stores are nestled in former storage cellars and bomb shelters, and they’re only found in Bulgaria’s capital. Today, as a record number of tourists visit Sofia, these squat shops are emerging as some of the city’s most creative underground spaces.

Klek shop that has been closed for some time, with potential to become a creative space considering the art gallery upstairs (on the left), Hipster bar named after Spanish poet Lorca that can be hard to find (on the right)

“Visually, kleks are incredibly unusual, interesting spaces,” said Iara Boubnova, the director of Sofia’s Institute of Contemporary Art. “The fact that they force you to bend down and shift your perspective offers so much artistic potential.” In recent years, the institute has put on two pop-up exhibits inside kleks, and Ms. Boubnova is showing a new klek-inspired video installation through May 31 underneath Sofia’s Eagle Bridge.

Before World War II and during the Cold War, Bulgarians and Soviets designed bomb shelters in the basements of apartment buildings throughout Sofia, with separate spaces for each family. The rooms lining the perimeter often had a small window just above street level.

Huge store for household goods

As Communism unraveled in the late 1980s, many residents lacked money to open independent shops, so entrepreneurs started illicitly selling extra appliances and household goods while craftsmen offered shoe repair, tailoring, and other services to pedestrians from their dimly lit bunkers. By the 1990s, there were underground squat shops on most every street in Sofia.

Shoe repair shop located in the periphery of the Sofia center

 

“These ‘kleks’ were actually among the first private businesses in Bulgaria,” said Angel Bondov, an urban planner who conducted the first government-funded study of Sofia’s kleks with the nonprofit #soSofia this January. “They symbolize our creative shift from communism to capitalism.”

Yet, as more chains and supermarkets have opened downtown in recent years, these reminders of Sofia’s early can-do capitalist spirit are vanishing. According to Mr. Bondov, more than half of the city’s kleks have disappeared since 2012, with only 27 remaining today.

In their place, a wave of artists and entrepreneurs are transforming these spaces into studios or speakeasies, while some surviving kleks are evolving from hole-in-the-wall convenience stores selling cigarettes and lotto tickets to incorporate a modern, locavore twist with local, natural food and drink.

Gift shops/galleries

Wander through central Sofia today and you’ll see elderly shoppers in flappy Russian ushanka caps and post-Cold War cool kids crouching to buy Bulgarian chocolates, bold-red wines from the Thracian Valley, and hand-painted cooking pots from Troyan. Merchants often display their inventory in glass-covered shelves where the sidewalk meets the building, while others bump upbeat Bulgarian pop folk chalgra songs from their spaces to draw the attention of those above.

Across from the National Palace of Culture park, visitors peek down at Petranka Pedrova’s bustling klek bakery, which like most of the other kleks has no formal name and is known to locals as Fornetti. Customers can choose from 32 freshly squeezed fruit juices — from local apricots to imported kiwis -— to pair with her flaky banitsa phyllo dough pastries.

Near the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, Radoslav Alexandrov tops the toasted ground-beef and kashkaval cheese princessa sandwiches at his klek known as Filiite, with chopped chubritza savory herbs from his garden. Thirsty? Ask for minty tea made from a boiled bouquet of plants Alexandrov picks from Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains.

“Here, my monthly rent is 200 lev” (or 5), Mr. Alexandrov told me as I squatted on the sidewalk looking in. “Above ground, it might be 2,000.” He generously slid a stool up through the window as my knees started to buckle.

One of the last VHS stores in Sofia, currently not functioning

 

After leading me on a three-hour tour of squat shops, Kristian Mitov, the founder of Sofia’s Balkan Bites tour, pointed down a flight of stairs from the sidewalk into a building cellar. “Young people have started adding entrances to convert former kleks into basement galleries,” he said.

Down the steps, 29-year-old designer Elena Shemtova displays jewelry, paintings and textiles from more than 50 Bulgarian artists in the 236 square feet of her two-year-old shop, Zelena. (Think: stone and driftwood necklaces, embroidered clutches, and computer-chip earrings.)

Perhaps nowhere better exemplifies the trend of breathing new life into Sofia’s bunkers than 5L, which became Bulgaria’s first speakeasy when it opened in February 2017 just off the increasingly trendy Shishman street.

After selecting the right key to open a hidden door, patrons lower two floors into a cavernous vault enforced with two-foot-wide stone walls and a concrete ceiling. A menu mapping an “Evacuation Plan” nods to the space’s former use as a bunker and highlights an encyclopedia of fruity Balkan rakia brandies and ouzos that mixologist Darko Angeleski blends into cocktails.

“Kleks, basement businesses, and speakeasies all started as these hidden, illegal things,” Mr. Angeleski said, shaking homemade vanilla and fig syrup into aged grape brandy, “I want to show locals something familiar, and then surprise them.”

 

 

Article by Eliot Stein, New York Times, 

 

 

 

 

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