Business & Economy

Mexico’s small business sector pins hopes on Day of the Dead

By Pedro Pablo Cortes

Mexico City, Oct 22 (EFE).- Mexico’s retail flower, craft and food merchants are counting on a stimulus from the upcoming Day of the Dead celebration to make up for a dismal 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mixture of hope and anxiety was palpable Friday at the Mercado de Jamaica, Mexico City’s leading flower market, where only a handful of shoppers walked down aisles filled with the cempasuchil (Mexican marigolds) that adorn the home altars erected to honor departed ancestors during the Nov. 1-2 festival.

“We don’t know how it will be, but the truth is, business is very slow right now,” vendor Mario Flores told Efe.

In addition to claiming 285,000 lives, coronavirus has battered Mexico’s gross domestic product, which declined 8.2 percent last year.

With the cemeteries closed to the public because of the pandemic, sales of Day of the Dead merchandise plummeted in 2020 by 70 percent, according to the National Alliance of Small Merchants.

“At this very time in other years there were quite of lot of sales,” Mercado de Jamaica old hand Pedro Balderrama said. “But now since the pandemic it dropped.”

The Mexican government has forecast that next week will see the lowest numbers of new Covid-19 cases and fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

“We all have hope of selling, if not, what do we do with the merchandise? But I think we will sell because things are already calmer,” Balderrama said.

Rooted in indigenous practices that go back thousands of years, the Day of the Dead has absorbed some Christian elements and the observance coincides with the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

The phenomenon has attracted the attention of cinema. The 2017 animated film “Coco” has a plot inspired by the Day of the Dead, while the 2015 James Bond flick “Spectre” includes a sequence of 007 thwarting an attempted assassination during a Day of the Dead procession in Mexico City.

Lorena Balderas, who sells Day of the Dead essentials such as cempasuchil, calaveritas de azucar (skulls made from sugar or chocolate) and paper folk art known as papel picado from a stall in Mercado de Jamaica, told Efe she fears that the combination of Covid-19 and economic distress has undermined the tradition.

“Many people no longer buy. I don’t know if it’s just because there’s no money or if the tradition is already being lost,” she said.

Sales “have diminished compared with the previous years,” Lorena said before urging the public to remember that merchants and artisans depend on the Day of the Dead trade.

That sentiment is shared by Alexander Gutierrez, though he is more upbeat about the prospects for this year.

“We are emerging from this situation of the pandemic that hurt all of us, in every sector. We will continue coming out of it,” he says.

While Mexico has surmounted three waves of Covid-19, the economy remains troubled, with inflation running at 6 percent and consumer spending off 1 percent in the third quarter.

“People are becoming more confident and beginning to go out more, but the problem is their personal economic situations,” Mario Flores said.

“Many people were left without work, they don’t have money, they are indebted, so there are certain priorities,” he said. “Though, of course, people are never going to deny the dead a few flowers.” EFE ppc/dr

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