The clothing store Cris, also written as ‘cri s’, on Springweg in Utrecht has been selling clothes for 23 years, and wine has been added for the last five years. It is not allowed, says the municipality of Utrecht. ‘Obscuring’ is not permitted by law. But it is time for that to change, say the politicians in Utrecht. Because why are Utrecht entrepreneurs with, for example, a fashion store, studio or hairdresser not allowed to sell drinks?
Many will agree: the retail landscape in Utrecht is quite dramatic. Vacancy remains a major problem in the city center and large, international brands and chains are appearing in more and more places. The street scene is becoming more one-sided, shop owner Chris Ravenhorst also notices. In April 1999, he founded the store Cris, a clothing store that focuses on clothing of exclusive origin.
“Unfortunately, Utrecht is no exception: individual shops are becoming increasingly scarce in the urban streetscape. This is also why it is all the more important that we can continue to offer a unique offer and contribute to an attractive Utrecht. Clothes made by mostly small family businesses that pay attention to people and the environment,’ Chris describes it himself. And he and his employees have found exactly the same philosophy in a selected group of winegrowers.
Because for a few years Cris has also sold a selection of natural Italian wines in addition to quality clothing. “We work with a handful of winegrowers in the Piedmont and Liguria regions of Italy. They are all winegrowers who are aware of people and nature. They produce on a small scale, the vines are not treated with pesticides, herbicides. And as few additives as possible used to make the wines, such as sulfite. Wine as wine should be, if you ask us.”
The mix of clothing and wine “adds to the unique character of the store,” Chris believes. “Unique for the customer and for us. But certainly also for the city of Utrecht.” A good idea, but in fact it is not allowed by law.
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‘Blurring’ is the blurring of the boundary between two or more types of business. Another name used for it is ‘branch blur’. Examples include a record store where you can also buy an espresso, a hairdresser who offers a beer while you cut, a gas station that also sells a ball sandwich or like Cris, a clothing store where you can also go for a bottle of natural wine.
In many cases, blurring is used when it comes to blurring the lines between establishments that provide alcohol, whether it is free or for a fee. You also talk about blurring when it comes to offering open or closed bottles of alcohol; a wine shop, for example, is officially not allowed to arrange a tasting with opened bottles.
‘Utrecht municipality has informed us that we must immediately stop selling wine’
– Chris Ravenhorst, owner Cris
A new law has been in force since 1 July 2021: the Alcohol Act. In terms of obfuscation, this differs slightly from the old legislation. And it is this alcohol law that Chris Ravenhorst now encounters. “Utrecht municipality has informed us that we must stop the sale of wine immediately, because the law says that it is not allowed. Rules are rules. No matter how nice or special it is, especially for the city of Utrecht, it is not allowed. Point. End of discussion. The wine must go.”
Every day that wine is offered for sale at Cris, there is a fine of 1000 euros per Getting a permit is no longer an option, the municipality informed him. “It feels unfair,” says Chris. “Anyone who knows the center of Utrecht knows that exactly the same thing happens in several places – just like other places in the Netherlands. Same monks, same hoods, right?”
When does the municipality keep the reins tight, and when does it tolerate something? “The municipality basically has a duty to enforce the alcohol law if a violation is found. But there are sometimes exceptions to that duty,” explains Anna Tsheichvili. She is a lawyer at Wieringa Advocaten and works in areas such as administrative law and environmental law.
“One of the exceptions is when it is a minor violation, such as a fence that is five centimeters too high, or if there is a prospect of legalization. This is, for example, when an entrepreneur has applied for a permit, but it still takes some time before it is granted. But for the rest, the municipality must enforce the law, including the alcohol law.”
According to Tsheichvili, it could be argued that there is now also another special circumstance that provides an exception. For example, there is something to be said for there being a ‘social desire’ to make blurring possible and thus improve the range of shops. “The mayor could see a special circumstance in this and allow obfuscation. But it remains to be seen whether a judge will agree.”
Utrecht as a pilot
Blurring has also been a topic of discussion in Utrecht’s politics for several years, says Ralph Peters from D66 Utrecht. “D66 has been pushing for blurring for some time now. It makes the city more attractive and Utrecht entrepreneurs can start their business in a much more creative way. We have also agreed in the national coalition agreement that it must be possible, and it is stated in the Utrecht coalition agreement that we want to start this.”
‘It’s a shame that the municipality stands in the way of creative entrepreneurs’
– Ralph Peters, D66 Utrecht
Peters also says that he was made aware of the situation in the clothing store Cris. “It’s quite harmless, and it’s a shame that the municipality stands in the way of creative entrepreneurs, while it will be allowed shortly… I will therefore put questions to the board, in which I will ask if it is possible in anticipation of national legislation to Utrecht to start a pilot. Maybe in a few shops or in the whole of Utrecht. The experiences and insights gained in these pilots can only improve national regulations.”
The municipality received the written questions from D66 Utrecht on Wednesday. These issues were signed by the Student & Starter parties and the VVD. In this, the parties ask, among other things, whether the Commission is prepared to foresee changes in national regulations.