Friday
October 24, 2014
Friday, April 11, 2014

San Telmo is a ghost town on strike day

An uncommon sight for a weekday: empty streets were the norm across the City yesterday.
Historic neighbourhood usually bustling, but many stores closed down yesterday

On the day a widespread strike affected the entire country, paralyzing the public transport system and blocking key roads and highways, weekday quiet in the City’s historic neighbourhood of San Telmo took on a whole new meaning yesterday, with business owners either directly shutting shop or counting away the hours on a day where all that seemed to be missing was tumbleweed.

“All businesses one block over decided to have a vote on whether to open or not and, in the end, they decided to stay shut,” said Roberto at the Antique’s Parking car lot on Defensa street. “We’re here because we have resident parking so we can’t close.”

Barista Augustina told the Herald, inside the San Telmo Market where she was serving a customer behind the bar at Coffee Town, that she and her colleagues hadn’t been directly affected by the lack of public transport yesterday.

“We all live three or four blocks from here so we had no problem making it to work. But the guys from the butcher’s over there, for example, they didn’t come because they live too far away,” she said.

Few tables were occupied yesterday around Dorrego square, where the usual scene features people enjoying a coffee or a beer while milonga music plays in the background.

While the tango performers were there, Pablo, who sells drawings at the plaza, said that business had “been terrible. There was nobody here all day.”

A few restaurants were open and relatively busy, a scene that repeated itself throughout the City despite the fact that Luis Barrionuevo, one of the leaders of the strike is himself also leader of the restaurant workers’ union.

Like Christmas day

Weekends can be busy in San Telmo, so yesterday’s quiet, according to most of the people the Herald spoke with, felt more like an extremely rainy Sunday or perhaps even Christmas Day.

A worker at a local pasta shop who refused to give his name said that it had been a “slow day for business” as the streets had been empty for most of the day.

Just near the main San Telmo market, a produce shop was being watched over a by a friend of the owner, “who left to go take a nap” — clearly not too worried about the possibility of a late afternoon rush.

Bad day for busking

For others with a more flexible work schedule, yesterday’s strike also had an impact, at least on the usual atmosphere of bohemian San Telmo.

“We knew it was going to be quiet but it’s really dead,” said Brazilian bustler Leticia, 27, who was playing samba and selling homemade vegan muffins on Defensa street with Swiss friend Romina, 25, who like Leticia lives in San Telmo.

“I was thinking people from San Telmo, who couldn’t make it to work because of the public transport (not operating) would be out and about making the most of it, or riding their bikes... but no.”

On the bright side

As was the case for the two street buskers, doom and gloom wasn’t necessarily the feeling on the San Telmo business front yesterday.

“Everything’s been very normal, as if it were a public holiday. San Telmo attracts a lot of tourists so it’s seemed normal,” said Clara, 29, who works at the homeware store Estación Ortiz.

And for others — so long as staff were able to make it to work — a lack of competition didn’t seem like a bad thing at all.

“We’ve been quite busy, as if it were a Sunday. I don’t know if that has to do with almost all the bars and cafés being closed or what,” Coffee Town’s Augustina noted.

One leather vendor in the Pasaje de la Defensa area was also unsure about the effects of the strike on business, noting that “because a lot of our customers are tourists, the footfall can vary from day to day for no reason.”

With business expected to return to normal tomorrow in San Telmo — whatever “business” might mean for the neighbourhood’s tourist-oriented stores or local-focused services, its buskers and baristas — those who were in the neighbourhood yesterday seemed determined to take the strike in stride.

“It’s all good,” said Leticia. “Do you want to hear some Coco music? It’s from north of Salvador de Bahia, and it goes like this...”

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