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Garage vibes

Garages underwent an amazing transformation in Yerevan. Nowadays, cafes, shops and other public spaces are opening more and more often in garages.

Contrary to the prevailing notion that this movement originated due to the significant relocation of Russians amid the Russian-Ukrainian war, its genesis dates back to 2020. The impetus behind it was an Armenian-Russian couple.

"The narrative of 8rr (pronounced 'oror')" shares Sasha, who, alongside his wife Mariam, initiated this project. "It is entwined with my wife's past, a tale born amidst the disorder and warmth of the garage layer. When we transitioned from Moscow to Yerevan, we embarked on a quest for a space for a micro-business—something exclusively ours, a canvas we could mold to our desires. I roamed Yerevan's yards for days with my child until we stumbled upon an abandoned garage with a tree growing inside."

Sasha and Mariam then took a proactive step by posting an announcement: "We are interested in renting your garage for commercial purposes; please call us." The garage owner, intrigued by the unconventional idea of renting a seemingly useless space, made the call. Following extensive negotiations, the couple secured the agreement and initiated substantial transformations. "I appreciate that residents have the chance to reshape the city and forge new spaces. Various additions to buildings can be seen as a tangible statement," Sasha reflects. "I wanted to harness that freedom.”

The journey of 8rr began with the sale of designer handmade home items from various corners of the world, reflecting a commitment to curating pieces that were predominantly meant for homes. Sasha and Mariam's move to Yerevan, marked by the modest luggage of two suitcases, prompted the symbolic opening of a home store, an endeavor to craft a new home for themselves.

Operating out of a garage for approximately two years, 8rr faced an unexpected turn when the owner of the space decided to terminate their occupancy. Consequently, the store transitioned exclusively to an online platform. Despite this shift, Sasha remains unaware of the precise reason for their eviction, opting not to delve too deep out of respect for the owner's personal freedom in his garage space.

Following the trajectory of 8, several other initiatives unfolded, giving rise to a distinctive garage cooperative on Saryan Street and its vicinity. Noteworthy establishments within this cooperative include the "Voch luys, Voch mut" coffee shop, the "Hummus Kimchi" cafe, the "Volchok" dress shop, and the "Rege Garage" vintage store. The concepts for the first two emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the latter two were born from the wave of relocations.

Karlen, inspired by his experience in the coffee industry, faced budgetary constraints when contemplating the opening of his own shop. It was Sasha who proposed the idea of utilizing garage spaces. Hailing from Vanadzor, Karlen's familiarity with garages as living spaces post the 1988 earthquake made the concept not entirely novel. After months of searching, he secured a beautiful garage in Saryan, overcoming challenges posed by the history of an Argentinian bar in the yard.

During the renovation process, Karlen actively engaged with the locals, emphasizing that the coffee shop would exclusively offer coffee without alcohol or food. Acknowledging the importance of yards as personal spaces for residents, he committed to monitoring visitors to ensure they respected the local community. Karlen firmly believes that conducting business in a yard requires adherence to the cultural norms prevalent in that area, recognizing that despite efforts to transform the space, the essence of the garage remains an integral part of the social life of the yard.

Hummus Kimchi is a unique family venture founded by a brother and sister with Jewish roots, along with their husbands—one Armenian and the other part Korean. Sasha, one of the founders, humorously describes the cafe, situated in Yerevan and specializing in Jewish and Korean cuisine, as a blend of the four individuals shaping it. Sasha, along with her husband Tigran, had a lifestyle that oscillated between Moscow and Yerevan over the years.

The concept of the cafe emerged when Sasha's brother, Dima, completed cooking courses in Israel. The decision to establish the cafe in Yerevan was based on the practicality of being faster and more cost-effective than in Moscow. Instead of actively seeking a special garage, the founders focused on finding an affordable and convenient space with the minimum conditions necessary for a cafe, preferably not far from busy streets. When they stumbled upon a suitable garage, they were pleasantly surprised to find that it already had essential amenities, including a toaster.

"I was surprised, thinking about its previous transformations... The former garage had already been converted into a vegetable shop, then a bakery, and even an office for a nationalist party," reflects Sasha. Despite its peculiar history, people initially found the concept of Hummus Kimchi unusual—a fusion of kitchens, a garage, and a large communal table. In Yerevan, skepticism prevailed, with doubts that anyone would sit in such a manner.

Nevertheless, Hummus Kimchi opened its doors in early 2022 and quickly gained popularity. Soon after, the Shin bar opened right below the cafe. Sasha notes that the majority of the cafe's customers are non-Armenians, although this ratio is gradually shifting.

"We didn't open a cafe exclusively for 'relocants,'" Sasha clarifies. "While we are immigrants ourselves, it's heartening to see more and more locals discovering our cafe. We happily welcome diverse individuals with children and pets—what matters most is that everyone feels at home.”

The "Volchok" clothing store, inaugurated in April 2022, occupies a garage adjacent to Voch luys, Voch mut. Notably, its entrance door mirrors the barred window of the building opposite, a subtle detail that seamlessly integrates the store as a natural component of the yard.

Vasya and his colleagues arrived in Yerevan in March 2022, part of the initial wave of Russian immigration. As established businessmen with multiple stores in Russia, they promptly began searching for a suitable location in Yerevan. Their introduction to the garage concept began with the 8rr project, followed by the discovery of the "Voch luys, Voch mut" store. Vasya, recalling his childhood spent around garages, felt a genuine connection to the idea, perhaps influenced by tales of the early days of Apple starting in a garage. Regardless, the garage atmosphere resonated perfectly with the spirit of their streetwear brand.

"This is not an easily accessible place; we are not on a crowded street, so whoever comes here, comes for us," notes Vasya. He utilized the advice of the founders of 8rri in his search for a suitable garage. "Mariam suggested printing announcements. We wrote 'we will rent a garage' in three languages and posted them in various locations. Initially, the first callers misunderstood our needs, thinking we were looking for a car workshop. However, a girl eventually called, finding our idea amusing, and agreed to collaborate."

Argenica, the founder of Rage Garage, a vintage store inaugurated in December 2022, shares the unique origin of his venture. He humorously begins, "My girlfriends and I organize parties in the garage, and we always joke that once the boys used to say, 'Let's go hang out in the garage,' but now this has become a completely girly thing."

Previously focused on conscious consumption and environmental protection, Argenica's foray into vintage began when he swiftly packed his suitcases "in an inadequate psychological state" while moving from Moscow to Yerevan. Upon arrival, he discovered he had only brought a pair of pants and a set of jackets acquired during his travels. These jackets formed the nucleus of his vintage shop. Over time, the collection expanded with items from other vintage shops, international travels, and the addition of locally crafted Armenian dishes and jewelry.

The garage where all these treasures are now sold belongs to Argenica's friends, who had been using the space as a warehouse. "To put it mildly, it was scattered," Argenica recalls, describing his first impressions. "There was dirt under my feet, traces of salt on the walls." However, a piece of natural basalt on the back wall caught his eye—a sign, as garages were constructed near the basalt mine. This discovery aligned with Argenica's desire for a stand made of natural stone, and now he had a whole wall of basalt. He fell in love with the garage at first sight.

The interior decoration of the garage pays homage to local history, using old Soviet tiles for the walls and tuff for the stand. Similar to Sasha of Hummus Kimchi, Argenica advocates for deeper integration of newcomers. "This is my personal pain. I don't want this to be a migrant project," he emphasizes. To foster integration, he has organized events, exclusively inviting local business representatives. Additionally, he plans to open a lecture hall for local eco-activists on the second floor. Having lived in Yerevan until the age of six and recently returned from Russia, Argenica recognizes the negative impact of a lack of integration and aims to contribute positively to the local community.

28 November 2023