Rio’s Booming R$2 Billion Beach Economy

The beach economy is directly responsible for around 35,000 jobs, with another 200,000 created indirectly.

By Alfred Rinaldi, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – An unavoidable aspect to spending time on the beaches of Rio are the vendors that endlessly pass by yelling and selling all types of food and drinks, even bikinis and sunscreen. These ambulantes (street vendors), along with the barracas (beach tents) who rent chairs and umbrellas, are in a booming industry, upwards of R$2 billion per year according to recent research.

Both Cash and Card Payments are Accepted on the Beach

Aloiso dos Santos, José Carlos Pereira da Silva and João Gabriel do Nascimento’s barraca accepts both cash and card payments, photo by Alfred Rinaldi.

Rio’s Secretaria de Desenvolvimento Econômico Solidário (Department of Social Enterprise and Development) recently said the beach economy is also directly responsible for around 35,000 jobs, with another 200,000 created indirectly.

Between Flamengo and Recreio, there are 1,123 barracas and just over a thousand ambulantes, and that is only counting officially licensed traders. The sizable number of surf schools and other sports-related businesses push these numbers up even further.

These gains do not come easy, however. Barraqueiros (vendors) like Zinho, Aloiso dos Santos, José Carlos Pereira da Silva and João Gabriel de Nascimento, who all live in Vidigal, set up their stall every day at 6AM and work late into the evening. Yet business has never been better. “We’ve seen an increase in our trade of around ten to twenty percent year on year,” Zinho told The Rio Times. “But it’s a seasonal business and we are entirely at the mercy of the weather.”

The beach also attracts a large number of unlicensed traders. According to Daniel de Plá, professor of retail at the Fundção Getúlio Vargas, at peak times up to thirty percent of vendors are accounted for by ambulantes pirates (pirate vendors).

Ambulantes walk the beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

Ambulantes walk the beach in the blazing sun from dawn until sunset selling their wares, photo by Mateus Vicente.

A friendly young Matte (type of iced tea) seller who prefers not to give his name, is probably one of their number. “I shouldn’t really work at all as I’m on probation having been arrested for drug-dealing. But I like this job and it pays well.” he explains cheerfully.

Cristina Pereira Gomes, from Bahia, also has reason to be pleased, as she told O Globo, by selling bikinis in Ipanema at R$25-$30 apiece, she earns good money. “It isn’t easy to walk in the blazing sun with 50kg of merchandise,” she told O Globo, “but on peak days I can almost hit the R$4,000 mark. All in all, I can clear up to R$30,000 in the summer season.”

All of this amounts to big business. According to Professor de Plá, “On peak days like the first Sunday in March, when everyone has received their paycheck – which this year falls smack bang into the middle of Carnival – the turnover on Rio’s beaches could amount to R$50,000.”

For Vinícius Assumpção, Secretary of the Desenvolvimento Econômico Solidário, the outlook is bright. “Between the summers of 2012 and 2013, the number of tourists has practically doubled. Many of our businesses accept card payments now and language courses are next.”

With the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics just around the corner, the Serviço Brasileiro de Apoio às Micro e Pequenas Empresas (Brazilian Service in Support of Small and Micro-Businesses) expects the beach economy to grow by a further twenty percent.

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