Will Starbucks Be Next?

One of the things I love about Santiago’s Casco Histórico is all of the local coffee shops, restaurants, and stores. I make a point to shop locally as often as possible in the old town as I want these close-by places to stay in business. My apartment is located on beautiful Rúa do Vilar which is one of the most historic streets in Santiago. If you have been here, you’ll remember it’s the street with Airas Nunes, Café Casino, Paradiso, etc. The street has maintained a lovely local vibe while simultaneously serving a tremendous number of pilgrims and tourists almost around the clock for much of the year.

Restaurants and stores can come and go in a flash here in Santiago. One day you plan to go, show up, and…poof, it’s no longer there and maybe it’s already been replaced by a new store or cafe. But that is a blog post for another day.

Last week, when I returned home from my multi-week trip to the United States, I noticed an old storefront on Rúa do Vilar was now being remodeled. How exciting I thought! A new restaurant or coffee shop is coming soon!

And then the business sign went up.

Photo Source: Leigh Brennan

What??? A chain store is moving into the historic district? Is Starbucks next?

Now let me be clear. I like Ale-Hop. I go to it occasionally when I am in Madrid or Leon, for example. But while those stores may be somewhat close, they are not located directly in the historic cores of these towns. If you aren’t familiar with this store, it sells lower-priced gift items, accessories, gadgets, etc.

I got a good giggle today as I wrote this as I recalled that the last time I was in Madrid, I noticed they even sell what they label “intimate vibration massagers”. Hmmmm. That might raise a few eyebrows in the holy city.

Photo Source: Ale-Hop website screenshot

Now, it’s not the store that per se bothers me. I worry more about what this will do to the already rising rent costs in old town as additional chain stores with big bank accounts move in. I fear old town could potentially lose some of its charm if more stores move in with the same merchandise you can get in several other cities.

I like being able to find unique, original items, and even sometimes, locally made items in the stores around old town. But more than anything, I worry about my friends that own local businesses here. Will the little independent places be squeezed out for more chains to move in? I am surprised that there aren’t local rules prohibiting chain stores and restaurants from being able to operate in old town. I know it’s only natural for things to evolve and change, yet I am feeling sad.

It’s hard to imagine a Rúa do Vilar without the current locally-owned bars, shops, and restaurants. I love coming out of my place and seeing the owner of Paradiso on the street outside his restaurant’s door. He is almost always out there welcoming customers in, chatting with neighbors, and just offering a friendly wave and smile to those passing by. I doubt anyone will be bringing that kind of charm to the neighborhood from the new Ale-Hop.

Although they do have those famous cows out front or just inside the door of every one of their stores which I guess may, unfortunately, become a new iconic selfie spot in Santiago. Sigh.

Photo Source: Unknown