Saturday, November 26

El Rastro survives hurricane COVID and faces the future with hope

There was no room for a pin this Sunday in the Rastro de Madrid, on an autumn sunny morning in which the vendors contained the euphoria, still cautious, after a horrendous 2020 and a 2021 of many troubles. The market was closed for eight months due to COVID last year, and in this, half of the stalls remained closed, every other week, until the end of September. The street vendors organized 28 demonstrations during the period, the last to return to work in the same conditions as always, after convincing the municipal majority (Más Madrid, PSOE and Vox, as PP and Ciudadanos voted against, officially suspicious of the coronavirus) . Now hope has returned, relief because debts stop piling up. Conchi Hernández, who has been at the Rastro for 40 years, selling his leather craft products, summarizes the feeling of the day: “The public in Madrid is wonderful.” The historic Madrid market has come back to life and now it’s time to think about the future.

“El Rastro is a living organism”, describes Mayka Torralbo, spokesperson for the Rastro Punto Es Association, to which three-quarters of the almost 1,000 vendors assigned to a job belong, a firm believer in that the spirit of the Rastro, and its thousand of micro-SMEs will survive the digital transformation and the changes in consumption that it brings. “When the large stores arrived, they said the same thing,” says the spokeswoman, always vigilant in the face of attempts to restrict the Rastro, to make it uniform. “All the Christmas markets that you see now are the same, replicas,” he criticizes. “Of course it will resist ‘online’. This is the humanized alternative, people need links and for that we need presence “, he says.

There have been changes, however. The public, for example, is more youthful. “We believe that they had to do with the restrictions on nightlife,” says Torralbo, who nevertheless considers that the La Latina space is “ideological, generational and culturally transversal.” That is why it must be preserved, because the adaptations will be made naturally, he defends. “The trace of the XXII century is this, it cannot be imposed,” he proclaims.

Although the police continue to control the influx at the entrances to the Plaza del Cascorro, the Ribera de Curtidores and other emblematic streets of the Rastro, the traffic jam of walkers is total on this bridge Sunday. Almost everyone wears a mask, which is still mandatory here, despite being outdoors, because the spaces are delimited. “We notice a feeling of hope, encouragement, desire”, says Raquel Ortiz, who has been bringing to the Rastro “a little bit of Andalusia” for 10 years, in the family ceramics that she makes and sells. “We resist with unity, working as a team. That is what the Rastro means ”, he celebrates. “We had a store, but this is everything,” says Marco Valenzuela, who has been selling vintage military clothing for four decades, with prints that transform it, taking away the martial air. “We had a bad time and now we are doing better,” says Juan Maya, who shares a space with his mother, Mercedes Serrano, who sell old books and clothes. “We are in debt a lot, but we are raising our heads,” he confides.

New audiences, new businesses

The shops on the Rastro streets have also had a very bad year and a half. Many traditional establishments had to close down. “There were about 400 stores available that had to do with small trades, crafts, auctioneers or antiques. Many closed because that public no longer buys ”, explains Manuel González, president of the Nuevo Rastro Merchants Association. “With inflation, changing tastes and competition ‘online’, sales are 90% below 2019,” he says. Given this, the association is committed to a mixed establishment, the “shop-workshop” in which the public not only buys, but also participates in courses, activities, that can see the artisans working live. “It’s about creating stores that have a soul, that can involve people,” he says.

There are already several examples of the above. Raúl Muñoz and Cristina Díaz have run the Espacio Punto Nemo gallery-workshop for a few months, divided into two rooms without barriers, so that a passerby who looks at the window can see Raúl painting at the back of the premises. Workshops, activities in common with other stores are organized. Manuel González thinks as a model in London’s Camden Town, or further back, in the ‘ateliers’ of Parisian Montparnasse at the beginning of the 20th century.

Displaced people from Malasaña also arrive, because in La Latina the rents of the premises are still acceptable, as Antonio Pérez, one of the people in charge of Plants Later Existes and a journalist for Somos Madrid, tells us. In a fairly large space in the Ribera de Curtidores they sell plants, organize cutting workshops and other cultivation techniques, such as the Japanese Kokedama, as well as a plant nursery service that avoids unpleasant surprises for fans back from vacation. “Being here allows us to have more versatile spaces,” he explains.

Leonardo Maita and Patricia Heredia have also bet on the mix of experiences. When they moved to the Rastro, they immediately understood “the position of the premises” in relation to their surroundings and the perspectives it opened. Its Los Pequeños Seres bookstore also operates as a furniture store and a small cultural cell. “We wanted to blend in with the spirit of the Rastro. We talk to antique dealers, we have objects in storage ”, explains Maita. The establishment organizes photographic development workshops with ancient techniques, ‘sound collage’ experiences and others that, although “sometimes they are not understood”, are guaranteeing the viability of the business that, like the entire Rastro on this Sunday of contained euphoria , does not stop receiving visitors.