A BAND of balloon-sporting clowns dressed in bright green, blue, yellow and red accompanied Lisbon Câmara President, Dr. Carmona Rodrigues, on his walkabout in downtown Lisbon to see this year’s Christmas lights.
Arriving in Rossio Square at around 6.30pm, Rodrigues officially switched on Lisbon’s Christmas lights in Rossio, Baixa Chiado, Rua Augusta, Rua de Ouro and Rua do Carmo.
On his walkabout in Lisbon’s traditional shopping district in Rua Augusta the mayor had a chance to chat to shopkeepers, who are concerned that the growth in modern shopping centres is killing off their business. Once a thriving downtown area of private clothes and fabric shops, it is rapidly being forgotten as young families head for the American-style malls of Colombo, Vasco da Gama and Amoreiras.
Another familiar winter Lisbon sight – the chestnut sellers – also complain that their business is facing extinction as people seemingly prefer to frequent the cafés, restaurants and fast food sandwich and snack bars on offer at these shopping malls.
But José Silva, manager of one of Rua Augusta’s high quality, retail men’s clothing stores believes that business is no worse than it had been some years ago. “The local shopkeepers love to moan and this is inherent in the Portuguese psyche. They love to blame the câmara for not doing enough to support them, when the truth is that they make plenty of money from the tourists and the cruise ship passengers,” he says.
Silva says that the clientele who shop in the downtown area are not the same kind of people who would visit the large shopping centres. “We attract a lot of wealthy, older businessmen and women, who like the personal service and expensive quality these kind of shops can offer, that they won’t find in Colombo or Vasco de Gama,” he adds.
The other issue, according to Silva, is that the local shopkeepers don’t work together by forming a local traders’ chamber of commerce to work for the benefit of all. “They’re too busy competing with each other to improve their own lot. For example we’ve been pushing for several years to employ a security firm to patrol this area, but shopkeepers don’t want to put their hands in their pockets to pay for it and think the câmara should fork out for it,” he explains. “Those that are always complaining they’re on the point of folding have been playing this same tune for 30 years and yet they’re still open,” he adds. Once the lights had been switched on, the public gave its verdict – the lights in Rossio are less dramatic than last year, with sparkling white lights on the façades of the buildings surrounding the square dominated by the white marble column, encased in arcs of tiny white spot lights on petal-shaped aluminium frames.
The illuminations in Rua Augusta proved rather more popular, with a series of electric blue illuminated gothic arches running the course of the street until the admiralty buildings in Praça do Comércio. Baixa Chiado has interesting star-spangled themes, but is lacklustre in monotone yellow, while the Praça do Município square in front of the Câmara Municipal de Lisboa has a post-modernist nativity ensemble, complete with angels, Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus – alas the donkeys have been left to Quinta das Celebridades!