ss than one block from the main plaza, just off the La Paz malecón that goes along the bay, in the historic heart of the city, is a new art installation, a colorful explosion of brightly colored umbrellas suspended above the pedestrian street, and stretching from one side of the street to the other.
It is a mesmerizing sight and part of the downtown merchants’ efforts to highlight an area of the city that has seen a drop in business activity over recent years, especially since the great recession of 2008, which caused hard times for many downtown La Paz merchants. The economic picture is brighter this year; tourism is up, which naturally translates into higher earnings for merchants and more revenue for the city.
The wild ceiling of multi-colored umbrellas is creating a visual splash for pedestrians and tourists, and the public response is plenty and positive. This is an area that doesn´t see as much foot traffic as does the nearby malecón, so the idea of leading tourist traffic to this area makes sense. This project has been financed entirely by private businesses and there are plans to expand the number of streets with umbrellas in the future. The merchants are trying to get the city to pitch in a little, but so far no response.
For most of La Paz´s long commercial history, this had been one of the most dynamic business areas in the city. Downtown is home to some of La Paz´s oldest and most historic buildings. It is also where traditionally housewives would shop for everything for the home.
But like many downtown areas throughout the United States, as middle class families obtained cars, the downtowns eroded. True here as well, although it happened in Mexico about a generation later. There is no place to park downtown and no place to create parking lots. So, here come the predatory big box stores, with WalMart, Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Sears, and others building south of town in recent years.
But what about the downtown merchants? They figure it’s time to get creative, and that’s what they are doing by creating a wonderland of umbrellas.
And the good news is that tourism has improved recently, although tourist activity is not nearly as robust as it is in the Los Cabos region, the largest income generator in the state. According to state government figures, 75% of state revenue comes from tourism, so why not try to draw these consumers off the sea front and into the downtown?
It’s not all gloom and doom news: there are many new businesses downtown that are doing well, and many of these are located just a short distance from the malecón. New, contemporary cafes, modern bars, international restaurants and small boutiques have sprung up in these older areas of La Paz and attract a large number of the city´s residents. For many of them, this region of the city is still popular, especially for the younger generation keen on an active night life. This trend should continue as more old time establishments give way to creative businesses with hip marketing plans. Anyway, the new and modern malls don´t offer a shaded stroll through historic areas of the city, or an enjoyable walk on the malecon. Nor do those large commercial areas offer pedestrians the chance to look skyward and see such an impressive display of colorful umbrellas hanging over their head.
The umbrellas are located just around the corner from Sears, on 16 de Septiembre Street. Take your camera.