Opinion

Rejoice! The gentrification of Sea Point has been short-lived

The increasingly empty stores of the upmarket Artem galleria are proof that you should give the people what they want

27 January 2019 - 00:00
Picture: Unsplash.com/rawpixel
Picture: Unsplash.com/rawpixel

The US show Portlandia wasn't a massive hit in SA. In fact, any episodes that reached our shores arrived like the washed-up remnants of a sunken ship. Perhaps it's because South African audiences generally have a somewhat underdeveloped taste for satire and Portlandia is perfectly absurd, not dissimilar to Cape Town's Sea Point.

Sea Point has become a shape-shifter of epic proportions. Gentrification takes place as fast as a Serena Williams serve. But the fall is as quick as the rise and in its wake a wind of equality blows through the empty stores once filled with exclusive products for the privileged.

The area's most outrageous change over the past year came when the landmark shopping centre Adelphi, once filled with pop-up fleamarket-style stores where you could get anything from a bootleg Nike cap to a two-pin plug, found itself in a heap of rubble. In its place rose the luxurious Artem. Not a shopping centre but a galleria. But since the bourgeoisie do actually require toiletries from Clicks, it remained - with freshly pressed gold signage.

When the "rejuvenation" of Adelphi was first announced, it promised to be a palace for the elite. The finishes are marble, Italian lighting leads the way, the balustrades are made of handcrafted brass and at least one of the escalators never works.

If you turn right upon entry, just past the 18ct gold logo in the front of the centre, sorry, galleria, you will find - an organic food market and minimalist product store.

Portlandia offers a larger-than-life sketch of life. Like the satire that is Sea Point, the show is about hipsters, same-sex relationships, coffee baristas, environmentalists, vegans and organic vegetable stores. Everything takes place on an edge fraught with ludicrousness and demographic segregation.

Not dissimilar from where the Atlantic Seaboard town of Sea Point currently finds itself, except here one doesn't have to imagine businesses enduring on the cusp of foolishness because it's pretty obvious that they don't.

No Gatsby the size of a fist should require one to sell a kidney in order to afford it

No-one wants bottled artisanal rooibos tea when Freshpak teabags will do just fine. When I first visited the purveyor of such beverages — a restaurant and bakery where one is transported back in time to relive fantasies of colonialism with staff dressed in standard khakis from the days of yore — I left quickly, promising to never return. An appropriated Gatsby stood out like a stolen piece of art in a British gallery. No Gatsby the size of a fist should require one to sell a kidney in order to afford it.

I never visited the couture running shoe store, but I was awash with glee the other day when I drove past and noticed it has been replaced by a supermarket chain clothing store. Give the people what they want.

I found myself swimming in another warm wave of joy last week when my sugar dropped and I popped into the aforementioned café restaurant for a quick snack and noticed the place was filled with the very clientele it tried so hard to keep out. Take back Sea Point, I hear the protesters who aren't from here say. Well, we did.

And then, my eyes fell on a serif font sign that said Sans. Inside the store, items of satirical Portlandia proportions. A small keyboard brush for the rich to dust away the gold crumbs from their laptops for hundreds of rands. Minimalist furniture priced at a month's rent.

And then, the star of the show, a beach bat-and-ball set for close to R1,000. And no, it does not convert to a personal chef when you take it home, or a car for that matter — something I would expect if I paid that much for some wood and rubber. Let me put this into perspective for you: for a couple of hundred more, you can buy the Wilson Blade tennis racket. The very kind Serena uses.

This store made as little sense to me as the characters in Portlandia paying hundreds of dollars for a single carnation. The only difference is that the show actually has cameras capturing the humour that is the ridiculously rich.

I wondered whether Sans was in fact a joke on the people in typical Truman Show style. Was there a back room filled with screens and people shovelling standard grade popcorn down their throats while they watched the silliest of people use entire salaries to buy a curtain tieback? It had to be the case. But alas, the store, like many in Artem, was empty.

It turns out, the mundane pleasures of the upper class in Sea Point have expired and those who just need a regular pair of quality socks have thrived.

Long may it last.