By Donitra Clemons, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Santa Teresa has long been a popular tourist destination, with steep rolling cobblestone streets and a distinctly bohemian style of shops and restaurants. However, business in Santa Teresa has suffered since the closing of the trolley, locally known as the bonde, following a tragic accident last year (2011) on August 27th.
Yet the popular streetcar was an important tourist attraction for the city of Rio, as well as a viable means of transport for the community in Santa Teresa.
Now close to a year after the bonde closed, in addition to mourning the absence of a historic neighborhood icon, community business owners are experiencing a significant loss to their pocketbooks.
While there are no concrete numbers for the loss of business yet, many are reporting a short-fall of at least thirty to fifty percent in sales. Other businesses, like the contemporary Brazilian-food restaurant Jasmim Manga has closed. The independent movie theater Cine Santa has yet to reopen from renovations.
Manager of the trolley’s namesake bar, Bar do Bonde, Marcos Olivera, estimates that his business has suffered a twenty to thirty percent loss. “It’s not just a loss of patronage from tourists, but locals as well because many people would ride the bonde up the hill and the bonde passed right in front of our bar.”
Domingos Cardoso, plastics artist and manager of Galeria Camayoc-Huasi agrees, “There is significantly less traffic, but I’m optimistic because events like Rio+20 and Portos Abertos are coming up.”
Much of the community has mobilized to ensure the proper return of the bonde – there is graffiti, homemade signs, and omnipresent yellow and black stickers with images of the bonde crying posted throughout the neighborhood.
By the year 2013, the government aims to reinstate the trolley service. “We will spend the entire year of 2012 in the task of renewal of track, equipment and purchasing new trams. We have appropriated, for starters, R$40 million for it. In 2013, for sure, we will deliver this gift to the city,” promises Governor Sérgio Cabral.
Although the city has added two bus lines to operate along the same routes of the bondes, the substitute seems to not have been able to recoup the charm of the bonde nor the amount of visitors to Santa Teresa.
Artist Getulio Damado, says he hasn’t seen this level of decline in the thirty years he has operated his business. Damado’s business, which sells popular replicas of the bonde using recycled materials, is an attraction in its own right.
“My sales have fallen at least fifty percent, but my costs have not decreased. I depend heavily on tourists, and I am suffering without the bonde,” stresses Damando.