July 5, 2020

The bars and restaurants of Colombia, between fear and uncertainty



“It is likely that those who own the premises will survive,” says Douglas Becerra, administrator of the Havana bar in Cartagena, a business that, like most restaurants and clubs in Colombia, lives in uncertain days due to the pandemic that has it on the brink. of bankruptcy.

In Colombia there are at least 50,000 bars and more than 44,000 legal restaurants that employ some 850,000 people who are now adrift by COVID-19, since the country has been in quarantine since last March 25 and the income from addresses in in most cases, they do not come close to half the usual sales.

“There will be a massive ‘breakdown’ of bars and very few will survive as the conditions for the tenants of the premises are significantly against them,” says Efe Becerra, who cannot hide his concern that his sector it seems it will be one of the last to reopen.

The scene of empty streets and closed bars is repeated in populous areas such as the historic center of Cartagena de Indias, Parque Lleras in Medellín and Zona T in Bogotá, where there are usually thousands of people looking for a good party or a place to eat.

UNSATISFIED NEEDS

According to a study by the Economic Observatory of the Colombian Bars Association (Asobares) released last month, 23.2% of the businessmen in the sector “have already thought about returning their premises and 55.9% can take another month if not the issue of leases by the Government is defined. ”

“80.5% of the tenants have not been able to reach agreements with the owners of the premises. We draw attention in this case, only solidarity will take us together from this crisis,” says Asobares.

One of them is the owner of the Tu Candela bar in Cartagena, Libardo Naranjo, who assures Efe that he cannot endure a more closed month.

“We are talking about a payroll of 22 employees that represents almost 31 million pesos (about 8,000 dollars) and more rent we are talking about 45 million pesos (about 12,000 dollars) that have nowhere to go. That without counting the services, which they total about five million pesos (about 1,200 dollars), “he says.

In his opinion, there are only two options to solve the situation they are experiencing due to the pandemic: that the government “freezes everything from leases to taxes” or that businesses declare themselves “illiquid”.

“In the case of Cartagena the impact for the bars and restaurants that we are in the old town or historic center will be much more profound because we all depend almost 90% on tourism,” adds Naranjo.

Last year alone, that Caribbean city received more than 520,000 foreign visitors, according to the Cartagena de Indias Tourism Corporation (Corpoturismo).

“Who knows when tourism will return to the standards we had in January and February this year,” says the owner of Tu Candela, one of the most visited places in the city and open for 27 years.

UNPAYABLE RENTALS

In the historic center of Cartagena there are dozens of bars and restaurants, most of them in leased premises that today continue to pay, as they can, despite having little or no income.

The leader of the Llamas Arenas Business Group (GELA), Gabi Arenas, expressed her concern because she has 10 stores and is aware that “when you stop a box, you stop everything: there are no salaries, there is no profit, there is no work, the closure paralyzes everything. ”

“The issue of leases has been the most difficult, supremely difficult, because despite the fact that the owners of the premises are very wealthy people they say that they have their commitments too. It has been very difficult because so far, despite the fact that the Government asked to reach payment agreements, in our case this has been impossible so far, “Arenas told Efe.

He added that if the government authorizes the return of their sector to work, there is also no way to do anything “because there is nobody on the streets and then this would generate more expenses (…) The pandemic has been a disaster for the restaurant economy ”

That is why there are other entrepreneurs who are now exploring “the issue of domiciles, a different area of ​​work for us,” says Mauricio Bedoya, owner of two restaurants in that area, who assures that they are “working at a loss, because in the downtown basically no people live. ”

“We do not understand why the extra costs of public services, for example, now that we are not open and we do not produce garbage. In the water bill we are still being charged for the collection service that right now is worth more than the same water (… ) We also do not understand why the Government does not look at us and does not take out aid measures for us, the small businessmen, “he warns.

In this sense, Bedoya, like many other businessmen in the sector, believes that if the government does not help them, they will not be able to keep their businesses alive.

“I know that many fellow entrepreneurs have already gone bankrupt and closed their businesses,” he says, hoping that he is not on that list of those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Colombia reached 14,939 cases of COVID-19 and there are already 562 fatalities from the pandemic.

Ricardo Maldonado and Jorge Gil

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