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Economic crisis felt in Amsterdam’s Red Light District

DutchAmsterdam.nl — The economic crisis is impacting one of the world’s oldest trades: prostitution.

Prostitutes in Amsterdam’s Red Light District told Dutch Daily Algemeen Dagblad the see fewer customers, higher rental rates for their ‘windows,’ and a sharp increase in the number of customers who want to pay less for their services.

“Compared to seven months ago it’s nothing now,” says one of the ladies. “Customers say they don’t have the money. They offer 30 or 35 Euros. In the end you agree, but on some days we earn barely enough to pay the rent,” Che, who hails from Mexico, says.

The euphemistically named Association for Relaxation Company Operators (Vereniging Exploitanten Relaxbedrijven), which counts 250 of the roughly 400 sex-related businesses in Holland among its members, speaks of a ‘drastic decline.’ “We’re talking coffee with milk instead of with cream,” says Director Andre van Dorst, who fears the recession will force a number of companies out of business.

“Many regular customers are staying away,” reports Lizbet from Spain from behind her curtains at Oudezijds Achterburgwal. Her neighbor, Simona from the Czech Republic, says she has reduced her fee for oral satisfaction to 15 Euro. “You do it because you need the money.”

Sylvia, from Hungary, says she now charges 40 instead of 50 Euros for the main event.

“Customers are haggling more — if and when they show up in the first place,” says Metje Blaak of the Rode Draad (Red Cord), and advocacy agency for prostitutes. She blames the media for playing up the crisis. “They scare people, and that causes them to keep their wallets closed.”

The Red Light District is also fighting an image problem, as news media from around the world have reported on the attempts of Amsterdam’s rulers to gentrify the area.

Over the past year-and-a-half many brothels have been pressured into closing, and the city has replaced many of them with fashion- and art studios. The result is an incongruous mix of fashion stores and ‘relaxation’ businesses.

Many Amsterdammers say they do not want the city to kill the ‘soul’ of the Red Light District.

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This post was last updated: Sep. 18, 2011