Quito, Dec 23 (EFE).- Business in the Ecuadorian capital this holiday season is registering a slight improvement compared with the pre-Christmas period in 2020, although the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis are keeping small businesspeople, who are barely managing to cover their costs, on tenterhooks.
Quito’s historic downtown, a World Cultural Heritage Site and one of the best preserved such areas in Latin America, in recent days seemed to be recovering a certain amount of business activity, although shopowners acknowledge that sales are still far below those of the pre-pandemic period.
Christmas decorations and figures adorn balconies, arcades and businesses in the colonial center, where holiday shoppers are spending slightly more than they did last year at this time.
“Two years ago, you could say that sales were 80 percent to 90 percent, last year (2020) it was zero. This year it should be about 20-30 percent,” said Tarquino Castillo, a businessman who has run a small Christmas decorations and toy store for the past 40 years.
He said that sales “are not very promising this year” due to the economic crisis in Ecuador and the effects of the pandemic, despite the fact that the great majority of the public has been vaccinated against Covid-19 and are currently in the midst of getting booster shots.
Among the reasons for the slowdown, he said, is the “lack of liquidity among the people,” and although he admits that this year is not as catastrophic at last year, it will be difficult to cover expenses and debts taken on with employees, banks, the city of Quito and suppliers.
The middle and lower classes are devoting their scarce resources to the most necessary purchases of clothing, food and decorations, and – to a lesser degree – toys and other items, vendors say.
Along the central Chile avenue in Quito, Gustavo Coello manages a store that’s been there for more than 20 years. He said that there has been a slight increase in sales compared with last year but “the people are thinking more about the disease and the new variants, which hinders celebrating … like they did in earlier years.”
Given this situation, he said, businesses are not daring to buy merchandise and go into debt because sales are uncertain and purchases are barely happening despite the fact that the public has just received its 24th paycheck of the year and economic growth is expected to be 2.8 percent next year, authorities say.
“It’s not (sales) movement that we’re hoping for, but compared with last year yes, things have picked up a little,” he said.
Near a popular market in the colonial center streetside food and other informal vendors mill around offering all sorts of basic items to those who want them in Ecuador’s most populous city with three million residents.
Evelyn Guevara, who has worked as a vendor for 20 years, said that this year some businesses have hired personnel for the December holidays.
“Last year at this time it was bad. This year, many stores began hiring people when last year they were working with the few people they had, and many people took pay cuts and there was no money,” she said.
The items being purchased by the public have also begun – rather timidly – to become more varied, with footwear buyers starting to want mid-priced items.
“They’re not looking for something very expensive but not too inexpensive either,” Guevara said.
In the shopping centers and malls, activity has improved thanks to credit accounts and payment deferments that in some cases have allowed buyers to be able to postpone their payments up until May 2022.
In addition, the superstores have begun holding more and more business fairs, where sellers of handicrafts can get their own spaces to display their wares to buyers.
Various surveys conducted by the main business chambers and other institutions have endorsed the caution of Ecuadorians at this holiday season after almost two years of the Covid pandemic, although only after the holidays will it become definitively known how sales have gone.