/ 27 August 2010

Scoop d’etat for a ‘corner store’

Scoop D'etat For A 'corner Store'

Brian Green sits in the courtyard of 44 Stanley, soaking up the combined warmth of a spring afternoon and the greetings of passers-by while reflecting on the prospect of hosting the M&G Literary Festival.

Seven years ago, Green and business partner Mark Batchelor began transforming a gutted jumble of old light industrial warehouses, workshops and garages into an upmarket maze of bakeries, coffee shops, art galleries and boutique retailers.

Unlike the “glitzy Sandtons”, which Green says “aim higher than where people are at in their lives”, 44 Stanley is “at the level where humans are at their most comfortable — sitting out under the olive trees in a sunny porch, surrounded by the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker”.

44 Stanley is something of a metaphor for a city where the old is being transformed into the new, while retaining some of the gritty realism that gives it “a vibrancy that doesn’t exist in other South African cities”.

Green came to Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth in the 1980s as a news cameraman “because it was the boiling point for politics, and there was no other place to be”. But when the political pot went off the boil, Green realised that he wanted to “help improve the city so I could enjoy living in it”.

Explaining the ethos of 44 Stanley, Green says: “Jo’burg doesn’t have a mountain, a river or an ocean. That’s why we need to look towards our human needs — like the comforts of food, drink and friends.”

And books.

“Yes, there are less mountains to climb, so more books to read,” he says with a grin.

Green is delighted that the Mail & Guardian approached him (“we don’t approach people; they approach us”) about hosting a festival: “All decent cities need one,” he says.

The literary festival “completely plugs in to the lifeblood of the centre”, because books are one of the “human needs” that Green is so keen to promote.

“The festival is a real endorsement, the most prestigious thing to come here since we started, so —” he pauses for effect, then punches my shoulder. “Viva!”