MOSCOW – Moscow’s mayor ordered the outdoor artists and souvenir vendors of Arbat Street on Tuesday to clear out within three days — a move that would take much of the color from a pedestrian street thronged by tourists in search of curios and kitsch.
The half-mile street has long been one of Moscow’s prime tourist draws — its 19th and early 20th-century buildings largely untainted by bleak Soviet architecture, its stroller-friendly promenade a cheerful contrast to the city’s roaring traffic.
Its souvenir shops will remain, but Mayor Yuri Luzhkov ordered vendors in outdoor stands, along with street-side artists, to get out by Friday to make way for an antique book market.
“There are places to buy souvenirs,” Luzhkov said. “But all this stall business we are clearing up.”
Some vendors and artists say they have not been told of the eviction and they intend to continue plying their trade, which many say is vital to the street’s identity.
“This is absolutely everything for me, but the Arbat will lose more. What is this place without the people who bring it to life?” asked Andrei Sytov. He has been sketching pencil portraits of passers-by since 1987, when the street drew Soviets basking in the early freedom of perestroika.
Sytov, who charges $13 for a portrait, said everything he makes goes toward clothes and food. “If I didn’t drink, maybe I would make money,” he said.
The move will probably benefit the twenty or so souvenir shops that line the street.
“They were probably illegal traders anyway,” said Yana Tulpanova, a clerk in one of the shops. “They don’t have receipts and they fake their prices. It really surprises me they lasted this long.”
The Arbat is currently undergoing reconstruction. Gray concrete tiles installed when the Arbat was pedestrianized for the 1980 Olympic Games are being replaced with red and gray bricks.
“Someone is really making some good money on this,” Tulpanova said. “It didn’t need doing and the new stuff is very similar,” she said.
Many Muscovites complain the Arbat is being slowly taken over by coffee chains and American-style eateries.
But during on evenings and weekends, the Arbat fills with street performers in a throwback to its 90s past as a bohemian gathering place.
Vladimir Zhurov, a painter, said the artists were essential because they helped maintain that vibe. He said the artists would find a way to continue to make a living — either by greasing the palms of officials so they can remain on the Arbat or by working the surrounding streets.
“We won’t die out as a species, that is definite,” Zhurov said.