By Jon Martin Cullell |
São Paulo (EFE).- Having Cracolandia as a neighbor is not good for business. Dozens of stores in the Santa Ifigenia neighborhood, in São Paulo, have closed and sales of those that resist have fallen by half, due to the proximity of the largest open-air drug market in Brazil.
Fed up with the situation, the merchants have begun to mobilize to request the transfer of drug addicts to another area, a request criticized by social organizations and to which the authorities resist.
“Enough of insecurity in our neighborhood”, denounced in large red letters the signs hung at the entrance of various stores.
Roberto Cheda, an electronics merchant, has been in Santa Ifigenia since 1975 and has never seen so many shutters closed as he does now. Even in the middle of the pandemic they weren’t that bad.
Cheda’s sales have fallen 60% since around 1,200 drug users moved within a couple of blocks of his store last year.
From time to time, people covered with blankets and with plastic bags on their backs are seen passing in front of the premises in the direction of Cracolandia (a pun on “crack”).
Empty streets for fear of drug dealers
In the gallery of stores where Cheda works, almost half of the stalls are empty. He has filled them with speakers and various devices to give a better impression.
“I am 71 years old and I would have to retire, but I can’t do it in this situation,” he says in his store, where employees patiently wait for a customer to enter.
Although there is a police car on the corner, a neighborhood doorman was killed last week, hours after officers tried to disperse drug addicts with rubber bullets.
“The street is quiet now, but the bad image of the neighborhood scares customers,” says Cheda, who along with other merchants pays a group of former police officers to patrol the street.
A law firm that manages 231 stores in five galleries receives notices of closings every week. 32% of the premises are empty – in a gallery it exceeds 50% -, and they have had to reduce rents in half. Still, they keep going.
“This was the last one,” says lawyer Roberta Ruiz, pointing to an empty store. The dealer was offered a discount, but he said it was better to save rent and sell online.
The difficult transfer of Cracolandia
Faced with this situation, some merchants have created the Santa Ifigenia Union Association, from which they organized a demonstration last week shouting “Help”.
The association’s president, Fabio Zorzo, 44, is afraid of losing the investment he made in 2020, when he bought a two-story building to open a technology store.
After the pandemic, sales began to recover until Cracolandia knocked on the door. Of the 20,000 customers he would like to attract each month, he estimates that he receives less than a quarter.
“I get job offers and there are no interested parties for fear of the neighborhood,” he explains.
Despite everything, he believes that Santa Ifigenia could be an Óscar Freire, the street that concentrates the luxury shops in the city, if it received more support from the authorities.
“With the money I spend on security, I could hire 10 employees,” he says.
In addition to an increased police presence to stop traffickers, the City Council recently announced a property tax exemption, a measure that merchants applaud but consider insufficient.
The government of the state of São Paulo, in turn, proposed moving users to a less commercial area, but backed down due to the resistance of the residents of the other neighborhood.
On the other hand, the Supreme Federal Court has just prohibited the forced transfer of homeless people, considering that it violates their human rights, which hinders the solution preferred by merchants.
“Isn’t it more humane to hospitalize them than to let them live in subhuman conditions?” Cheda launches.
Zorzo is willing to offer work to rehabilitated former drug addicts, but insists on the need to get Cracolandia out of Santa Ifigenia: “If necessary, we are going to continue demonstrating.”