Bogota‘s historic center: Theaters, museums, historical landmarks, century-old businesses…and chain stores?
That seems to be city planners’ vision, judging by the invasion of the La Candelaria neighborhood by Oxxo, a Mexican convenience store chain which seems to sell primarily alcoholic beverages and junk food. Two Oxxos have appeared in La Candelaria in the past several weeks, and I’ve heard the chain is planning on several more. And, along with them are appearing chain restaurants with gaudy colors and neon lighting. what’s next? A Mcdonald’s? A casino?
Few things could more completely ruin the cultural and historical atmosphere which Bogota wants to build in its historic center than these businesses, which scream prefabricated commercialism.
And, at a time when concern is rising about youth alcoholism and obesity, the presence of these stores near many universities and other schools isn’t healthy.
Of course, the traditional mom-and-pop corner groceries, run by Doña Cecilia, Doña Maria and Don Carlos, can never compete with convenience stores, which buy and sell in huge volumes. While cheap prices may look good for customers, they’re a short-sighted benefit. The families which founded and depend on the traditional corner groceries help create a feeling of community which a chain store can never replace. The family businesses’ money also stays in the community, through rent for their apartments, their own shopping and much else, while Oxxo sends its profits overseas.
And do cheaper alcohol and junk food really benefit anybody, except the retailer? On the other hand, enter one of the family-owned stores and you’ll find an often-unruly jumble of products, including many fruits and vegetables. If the chain stores kill the traditional stores, we’ll be left with only processed, pre-packaged foods – and more obesity and heart disease. In the United States, such unhealthy situations are called “nutritional deserts.” That’s a high price to pay for a cheaper six pack and soft drinks.
Some people call these chain convenience stores “progress.” But if progress means destroying the livelihoods of local families and replacing tradition with something imported, prefabricated, homogenized and unhealthy, then who wants it? Do we want La Candelaria, which is supposed to represent Colombianness and Bogota-ness, to look like Miami, Houston or Los Angeles? To lose everything that makes it unique and special?
And it’s not as though La Candelaria were stuck in the 18th century. The neighborhood already has several supermarkets, which do sell fruits and vegetables.
And, of course, those families which depend on the corner stores are important, too. Should we stand by while the globalization bulldozes over over Doña Cecilia, Doña Maria and Don Carlos?
During the campaign, now-Mayor Gustavo Petro called for restoring La Candelaria and supporting traditional businesses. Where is he now that Bogota’s heart is under threat?
Author Mike Ceaser is an American resident of Bogota and owner of Mike’s Bogota Blog.