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One of Amsterdam's coffee shops. Photo: mattmangum

One of Amsterdam’s coffee shops. Photo: mattmangum

Mellow Yellow is the oldest coffee shop in Amsterdam, having opened in 1967. ?Mellow Yellow was the first coffee shop in the world and now they want to close it,? protests the owner, 33-year-old Johnny Petram. He serves people in their thousands each day, both locals and tourists. Israelis come together with Palestinians to smoke weed. Next year should be the establishment’s 50th anniversary, but instead it’s set to close on January 1 by order of the mayor. It’s a common trend: there were 350 coffee shops in the 1990s, but only 175 remain today.

?Part of the history of Amsterdam?

Petram points out: ?Even people who don?t smoke come here to have their photo taken. It?s part of the history of Amsterdam.? Now, however, it appears that Mellow Yellow will go from being part of history to being history: Mayor Eberhard van der Laan is overseeing a government initiative to close any coffee shop within 820 feet of a school to supposedly discourage youngsters from trying cannabis. Mellow Yellow is among 28 coffee shops to be stricken.

The problem

Petram, with his future at stake, has employed a lawyer to assist him in halting closure on the grounds that the ?school? is in reality a hairdressing academy whose students are mostly over 18: ?They are closing the world?s oldest coffee shop because of a salon.?

The office of the mayor doesn’t actually believe shutting coffee shops will prevent the young from taking cannabis but is taking action to prevent Amsterdam from having to institute the so-called Weed Pass, disallowing people not from the Netherlands from entering coffee shops. This has already been enacted elsewhere in the country, but Amsterdam resisted because it would cause street dealing to explode. There are some who believe that kowtowing to the government is an error, since the election next year might bring in a terribly right-wing administration that wouldn’t honour the agreement.

Making things worse are the city council’s efforts to clean up the red light district. August de Loor, an adviser to the government and the founder of the Bond Van Cannabis Detaillisten union for coffee shop owners, bewails that this is gentrification: the city only wishes to please rich people. He added, ?I?m all for increasing the quality of the city centre but not by kicking out coffee shops.?

You need those coffee shops

While regarded by some as lowbrow, coffee shops are vital to Dutch tourism, with between 25 and 30 percent of tourists in Amsterdam visiting one, per city hall. De Loor grouses that they are ?meeting points, like pubs? and they ?help keep the city cosy.? They are unique to the Netherlands. He fears, ?Within five to ten years, coffee shops could be finished.?

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