Rescuing La Revu

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by Laura Durán

They would rather accept dollars but, when there are no tourists, the businesses on Avenida Revolución are out to attract local customers by offering restaurants, fine art, high-quality folk art, good prices in pesos, and improved customer service.

With the reduction in cross-border traffic brought on by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, by the U.S. policy for its citizens to carry passports, by the worldwide economic crisis, by the drug wars, and finally by the flu scare, Revolución can no longer expect much from foreign tourism.

The days of plenty are gone. The famous avenue is now a shadow of its former self. Sixty percent of the shops are empty. Potential customers look but don’t buy. The merchants who remain are finding it increasingly harder to keep their doors open.

With the Cow Parade came the discovery that local customers could be a source of income. For several weeks last year, entire families roamed the streets simply to enjoy the bovine statues installed along Avenida Revolución and the Zona Río.

“That exposition created a good image, raised our spirits, and attracted a lot of people” said Andrés Méndez Martínez, the coordinator of Ceturmex, the leading merchants’ association for Avenida Revolución. “It brought in local customers, something we hadn’t seen in a long time. Because of that, the association started to work on the idea of offering discounts just for local people.”

According to Méndez Martínez, Ceturmex, which is made up of a significant number of businesses on Revolución, will be adopting the recommendations offered by the state university’s school of marketing. “They suggest that we bring in good restaurants and culturally oriented businesses. We need to offer more diversity in our merchandise. Offering the same items store after store won’t keep Revolución going.”

Café La Especial's death announcement

Ceturmex will form a working group charged with revitalizing tourism for the historic street in order to combat the economic crisis that has plagued the area for eight years now. The first step is in certifying each business with the state’s tourism department. “There are at least sixty-six businesses in Tijuana with this certification,” Méndez Martínez tells us, “and more than half of them are on Revolución. This assures the quality of our craftwork and folk art.”

Additionally, the Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau will be certifying police officers in order improve the level of service that tourists receive and to avert the shakedowns of a few years ago.

The greatest obstacle to Ceturmex’s efforts comes from the insistence of Revolución’s absentee landlords to charge their rents in dollars. According to Méndez Martínez, the shops are empty because the landlords refuse to lower their rents to meet the current circumstances, more often than not because they live outside of Tijuana. “Visitors used to spend an average of $210 and now they’re only spending $45. The landlords aren’t here, they don’t know that our sales have dried up, the rents stay the same and the buildings lose their tenants.”

Expo Tequila 2009

In the past, events that closed the street to traffic, such as the Festival of Chinese Food and Expo Tequila, caused enough friction that the merchants on Revolución had to file suit against Canirac, the restaurant trade association. Thanks to the present crisis, though, both sides are more amenable. “The folks at Canirac never took us into account and that caused a rupture” said Méndez Martínez. “Now that the situation has changed, we’re trying to increase the number of their events.”

On the other side, Gabriela Mondragón Hernández, the executive director of Canirac, says they’re willing to help bring Revolución back to life but, to do so, they need Ceturmex to change its thinking and to participate actively. “They widened the sidewalks in order to offer alfresco dining, as was done in Ensenada. So why is there no alfresco dining? I don’t know. Avenida Revolución needs to be a pedestrian mall.”

Mondragón is emphatic. “Customers aren’t going to show up by the grace of God, there has to be something to attract them. Tijuanans won’t go to Revolución except for special events. The merchants of Revolución should work with us instead of oppose us. They’re missing out on opportunities to increase their sales.”

While Ceturmex favors bringing in the so-called Baja Med style of restaurant, Mondragón is promoting the traditional cuisines of Mexico inasmuch as most residents of Tijuana are homesick for whatever part of the country they came from. “Because of the economic crisis, the prices need to be reasonable,” she insists, “and quoted in pesos.”

Government officials and businesspeople alike have noticed that Tijuanans go looking for art, that they find any reason to pass the day outdoors in events that are pleasant, recreational, family-oriented, and festive. But when it comes time to pay the artists involved, no one raises their hand.

Thanks to the successes of the concerts featuring Maldita Vecindad, Libre Voz, and the Falsa Orquesta Cubana, which were held in the middle of Revolución in September, both the merchants and government officials saw the value in paying the talent. As a result, local artists of various disciplines used Revolución as their stage October 23–25 with free admission to the performances.

“We’re going to see how this project goes” said Teresa Riqué, the director of IMAC, Tijuana’s Municipal Institute for Art and Culture. “Any street in any city has potential. Any street festival you hold in Tijuana is going to draw a crowd because the people here like to go out, especially those between twenty and fifty years of age.

“We offer logistical support for the merchants of Revolución but the artists still need to be paid. The merchants don’t have the money for that and neither do we. That’s where things are stuck right now.”

Festival del Mariachi 2009

Gabriela Mondragón says that artistic events were suggested as a way to attract business in the past but that they never got beyond the planning stage due to the indifference of the shopkeepers and to the inconsistency of the organizations that produced the events.

The silver lining to the current economic crisis, then, involves not only the improvement, certification, and diversification of the merchandise on Avenida Revolución but also the introduction of artistic events as a catalyst for change.

“By changing its direction, Revolución could become like Paris or New York,” offers Teresa Riqué, “places where artists take to the streets and attract crowds. Ideally, Revolución could become like the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, which is full of little cafés and cozy places that people want to visit.”

Gone are the days when “La Revu” was overrun with table dances and strip joints where they wouldn’t let you in if you weren’t white. Nowadays there are no customers, so the few who show up must be treated well.

No matter if Revolución can offer convenient parking, a safe environment, certification, quality, prices in pesos, or extravaganzas – none of that will amount to much unless the citizens of Tijuana can be convinced to buy locally.

Originally published in El Informador de Baja California, 2009-10-22.
Republished in translation by kind permission.


The Real Tijuana said...

For folks like Fulano (who left no e-mail address) the parallel entry on Xomba for this item is

World Hum said...

Great post.

As a Mexicophile living in San Diego, I'd say there's no question that Revolution has to reinvent itself if it's to thrive in the future.

It needs better restaurants, more interesting shops, funky street musicians.

The street is stale, dull throwback to what Mexicans thought Americans wanted in 1975. The zonkeys are the perfect symbol of that -- they've gotta go. Let's bring Avenida Revolucion into the 21st century!

Jim Benning