Saturday, April 12, 2008

Little Alleys Everywhere

It's been nearly three years since we've been back to Buenos Aires. It's amazing how little changes, but more amazing of how much changes.
We stay in an apartment in a trendy neighborhood called Las Cañitas. It's behind the polo grounds, a little pocket neighborhood tucked away near all the popular "Hollywoods and Sohos" that have cropped up in the last five years, the ones packed with ex pats dining on out on a strong dollar, and an even stronger euro. I call them Disney Dollars, because of the still good 3 to 1 exchange rate.
However, it seems prices have risen enough to make the 3 to 1 almost a moot point, because when you do the math, you are paying the same price you would pay in the USA for the same goods. If you are a local, this price increase is mind boggling when you are actually paying 90 pesos for a $30. pair of shoes. Lots of local people use credit here to buy everyday things.
Three years ago in Las Cañitas there was a boom of trendy boutiques, sushi reataurants, hip bars, etc. The streets were full of PYTs (pretty young things), a vibrant scene bursting at the seams. Today many of those places have closed. The ever popular modern white leather sectionals used in every cafe, bar, or restaurant, are shopworn and looking a bit sad and worse for wear. In other words, no one is spending money to maintain or upgrade their posh places of business. Nothing sadder than a posh place gone to an average dump. There are also less PYTs in the bars and shops and restaurants.
I think the US traveler, and more importantly the US ex pat who bought a great apartment here at a very good price (compared to US real estate prices), is going to have a rude awakening soon. The dollar and peso where on par, one to one in 1997. I think it's really one to one now, only the Argentine government isn't saying so, to kind of keep a facade up for foreigners spending money here.
Buenos Aires at any price is well worth the trip, and the money. In 1997 paying one to one didn't kill us. In the past five years it has been great getting more bang for the buck, especially when the dollar sinks lower in so many other places, some might say even in the USA.
There is a huge shopping street nearby, called Cabildo. Three years ago it was kind of like 34th Street in New York City, a neighborhood shopping street, not too trendy, but packed with good merchandise at very good prices. There were alot of street vendors. There were alot of junk stores, selling colorful and cheap household items. There were alot of home decor stores, selling curtains, rugs, ceiling fans, lighting, sofas, accent furniture. And of course lots of shoe and clothing stores too.
I went looking for a curtain guy I used the last time I was here. I walked Cabildo from the 400 block to the 3000 block, and most of the middle class shopping has given way to hundreds of little posh clothing stores, no wider than a narrow alley, a fashion callejon.
My great curtain man Oscar, is gone. The street vendors are gone. There are also lots more Bazzar stores every other block, import stuff for the home, kind of like the old Azuma store in NYC on 8th Street and Broadway. They're not big box like World Market/Cost Plus, but a little chain of shops filled with beaded curtains, cheap lamps, candles, ceramics, etc.
As the expats rent and buy all the middle class apartments in the neighborhoods of Palermo, Belgrano, Colegiales, Almagro, and everything near these neigborhoods, the shopping needs are changing too. Porteños are moving further out of the city because they cannot afford the rent. I wonder what will happen when the bottom falls out of the bucket holding Disney Dollars and Disney Euros.

No comments: