Progress is well under way with the building rising at an astonishing rate. Friends who reside in the once quiet street of Collasuyo now find everything covered in a coating of mud and dust from the large construction vehicles that roll up and down the street all day long. The tarmac on the road is destroyed due to the sheer weight of vehicles lasden with building materials. The only bonus for them at present is the huge increase in the value of their houses, should they wish to sell. But the future is surely increased congestion as the only entrance to the huge mall will be on their street. Rumour is this is just stage one, with one of the traditional Cusco schools to be demolished to complete stage two. This will eventually give another entrance point but on the already overcrowded Avenida de Cultura. Traffic will be worse than ever.
Opposition was strong for years and in some quarters it still is, but progress is inevitable and welcomed by many. It has been a long time since Cusco had a cinema, it used to have many. Nowadays most people watch pirate films at home on DVDs bought for a dollar in the local markets. Most would probably agree a cinema is welcome. However these days cinemas are not just about films. They are about huge buckets of popcorn and giant cups of soft drink. They are about introducing junk food and American size portions to the children of Cusco.
And the so wrongly named “Plaza Gourmet” food hall is another assault on the healthy diets that most have here in the Andes. McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays, Starbucks. What the hell are “gourmet” about those, let alone remotely healthy?
One of the highlights for many is the introduction of a new supermarket. Cusco has its own brand of supermarkets called Mega which have been reproducing fast across the city. Many say they had a large hand in preventing the previous attempts to introduce a mall becoming reality. It was not in their interest. In these Mega supermarkets it would be hard to find a worse level of service. They always run out of things, the visa machine never works and asking someone that works there a question is politely put a waste of a few seconds of your life. We are fortunate in Cusco to have a great tradition of local markets, full of fresh, cheap, tasty, local produce. Visitors from all around often wander around the markets to remind themselves that meat does not come on a polystyrene tray, chickens have more than just breasts and that a cow can actually be eaten as more than just steak or hamburgers. Bulls testicles anyone?
So the introduction of Plaza Vea, a national supermarket chain as part of the mall, is one I welcome in some ways but worries me in others. It will be nice to get various ingredients that you cannot get in Mega and I really hope it puts Mega out of business because it is such a badly run business. But inevitably our great local markets are going to suffer. It is not only visitors from abroad that enjoy wandering around Cusco´s markets but also those from other cities in Peru, where the supermarket has gradually taken over.
One shop I am quite looking forward to is Ripley, which is one of Peru´s main department store chains. While actually being Chilean owned which does not sit well with the more nationalistic Peruvians, it is a well run, well staffed shop with plenty of choice and often great offers. Good clothing in Cusco is unfortunately almost impossible to come by. Its fine if you want to spend your days dressed in fake alpaca goods, or even high class, high price real alpaca goods. But apart from that you have to rely on small boutique stores. The business model is simple. Go to Lima buy lots of things in the sale then return on the bus to Cusco, an uncomfortable 18 hour journey, and sell the said goods at over three times the price you got them for. It makes buying clothes here very expensive, unless of course you want what I can only describe as market quality clothing, generally using lots of synthetic fabrics without a stitch of tailoring in sight.
But with the owners of one of the new small shopping centres still in court over the fact they destroyed Inca walls to build their shops the future is bleak for the many tiny “boutique” clothes shops that currently hold sway in Cusco. Will I be sad to see them go? Not really, as I have hardly ever managed to find anything of use in any of them for either I or my daughters and I resent paying the prices they charge. And will I be sad to see the huge contraband markets that are spread throughout the city go? No. They sell everything from clothes to tvs, to toys made with toxic plastic. They are cheap but shopping in one is not an enjoyable experience. Most people I know get on a plane to Lima or Arequipa to go shopping as there currently is no choice.
What else does this mighty mall offer us? Banks – yep the same banks that have branches scattered all over our city. The same banks that will love the mall because it means more people will be spending money they do not have on credit. Banks like consumers and malls turn cities into cities full of consumers. Some more junk food is on offer in another food mall, not gourmet this time though, just Dunkin Donuts, mass produced Chinese food and other non delights. Apart from that a few more brand name clothes shops, one that sells bits for the house which could be useful as at present if you want to buy a placemat say, you buy it from a shop that buys it from a shop in Lima then resells it at three times the price. Another business model destined to die out.
Is it going to put lots of small businesses out of business? Certainly. Will it create jobs? Certainly. Will it bring much needed choice to the city? Yes. Will it increase the quality of goods on offer in the city? Yes.Will it affect the bars and restaurants based around the centre of town? Probably. Unfortunately there are people who will find a night out at a mall eating McDonalds to be the perfect first date rather than going for a nice meal. Will it affect people´s weekend habits? I imagine so and this will in turn affect many of those owners of country restaurants where families go to on a Sunday for a nice day out of the city. No need now, we can go shopping instead.
Will it affect the eating habits of the population detrimentally resulting in more obesity? Yes. Will it put more people in debt? Yes. Is this progress? I will leave that for you to decide.