Time stopped in downtown Lisbon. The lack of tourists due to the pandemic paints a void in the center of the Portuguese capital, with many shops closed and with merchants at the door waiting for the customers they once had.
The streets are full of people, but few stop at shops and restaurants.
The president of the Dynamics Association of Baixa Pombalina explains to the agency Lusa, in the center of Praça da Figueira, that with the disappearance of tourism there are almost no customers in the historic center.
“Everything was directed so that tourism would be the major buying force in Baixa Pombalina. Both restaurants and commerce lived – and it is not exaggerated – at least 70%, at the expense of tourism,” says Manuel Lopes.
Under a radiant sun in the middle of autumn, the former entrepreneur recognizes that consumers will take time to regain confidence and purchasing power.
“Tourism has disappeared, customers have disappeared and residents are scarce. Obviously, with this covid problem, with no confidence from people to move, Baixa is the one that most resents,” he says, noting that there are many deals to close.
Now, he says, it is more economical for a company to close than to be open. In the association’s accounts, approximately 115 commercial spaces have already closed.
“There were a lot of people – and it’s not worth ignoring – who started to live at the expense of tourism and obviously tourism has left due to these circumstances that we all know. And now to bring back and fill our commercial space it will take your time “, assumes.
In his view, the biggest problem for trade is not gentrification, but new lease agreements, since entrepreneurs “will not be able to renew their incomes”.
In front of the statue of D. João I is Alfredo Tavares, general director of the My Story Hotels chain, who says he had to close almost all spaces due to the lack of tourists.
“We have five hotels in Baixa de Lisboa. At the moment, we have four hotels closed and one open”, sighs the businessman, recalling that, since March, only two more hotels reopened during the summer.
According to the official, the hotel group suffered a lot from the restrictions imposed due to the new coronavirus.
“We had major cancellations. At the moment, there is not even demand. I can say that in the last three days we have had four reservations,” he says with dismay, not knowing what the future holds.
Alfredo Tavares reveals that about 25 workers, out of 80, have not seen their contracts renewed, because the group has breaks above 90%.
At Rua da Prata, a door opens to the East. The aroma of ramen (Japanese pasta broth) triggers the sense of smell and opens the appetite.
Paula Dias tells Lusa that the Japanese cuisine restaurant Panda Cantina had to adapt to the new reality, stressing that it was never “dependent on tourism”.
“We had to create a new take-away dish. Our restaurant specializes in ramen. We had to create a dish without broth […]. We didn’t want to lose the quality of our main course “, he says.
According to the space manager, production fell by half. The restaurant is small and, with hygiene and safety measures, it is not possible to have meals for more than 15 people at the same time.
In this odyssey through the almost lifeless streets of Lisbon, with closed commercial spaces, it is increasingly the souvenir shops of immigrants from Asia that give light to the city center.
Among the many dozens of stores with locks at the door, there is one that appears with a notice on Rua da Madalena: “This establishment will definitely close in late December. We sell everything including furniture at reduced prices”.
At the counter is Homero Cardoso, who explains that the pandemic has taken customers to the Portuguese handicraft store Santos Ofício and does not see an easy future for the activity.
“I’m already tired of fighting for a project always with mountains of difficulties. We ourselves, at a certain point, after the pandemic […], we still thought that things could improve a little bit, but they only got worse “, he stresses, referring that the business was” completely dependent on tourism “.
According to the owner, the lack of support closed the space, which is 25 years old.
“[No verão] 200 foreigners came here. Of the 200 foreigners, probably five bought, the other 195 entered as if they came to see a museum, entered and left, and some stole “, he says.
The store has only remained open in recent months because it had the hope that “something could improve”, a wish that did not materialize.