Colorful folkloric fabrics from each of Mexico’s 32 states stand on the walls. Black charro suits worn by mariachis and adorned with ornate gold or silver trim hung backwards from a rack. The brightly colored Dia de los Muertos folk art skulls and statues were safely enclosed behind a glass case.
Missing were the customers, staff and happy pulses of traditional Latin music such as cumbia, mariachi and son jarocho, Veracruz sound.
“I was very sad in those days,” said Medina. “I had a feeling I would never open shop again.”
Now back in business, but with government-imposed restrictions, the medina and other merchants and restaurants on Olvera Street – and those around the state – are still struggling and facing an uncertain future, even That California is preparing to fully reopen its economy on Tuesday for the first time. 15 months.
“My only hope is to continue day after day,” said Medina, who remains optimistic. “I don’t expect normal. I expect semi-normal.”
California implemented the first statewide shutdown in March 2020 and is one of the last to fully reopen, although businesses have operated at reduced capacity for months. It was an early model for how restrictions might keep the virus at bay, but later became the US epicenter of a deadly winter boom that overwhelmed hospitals in Los Angeles and other areas.
More people tested positive for the virus in California – about 3.8 million more counting – and more people died – more than 63,000 – than anywhere else in the country. However, the country’s most populous state had a lower per capita death rate than others.
For the past few months, the state has experienced some of the lowest – or some of the lowest – infection rates in the US. Its vaccination level is also higher than most other states; Two-thirds of those eligible have received at least one dose.
Governor Gavin Newsom set June 15 long ago as a target to lift restrictions on capacity and distancing rules for nearly all businesses and activities. But reopening doesn’t mean people will immediately flock to the places and events they once packed.
Olvera Street has long developed into a tourist destination and a symbol of the state’s early ties with Mexico. The site where settlers established a farming community as El Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1781, with its historic buildings restored and rebuilt as a traditional Mexican market in the 1930s.
As Latinos in California have experienced disproportionately worse outcomes from COVID-19, so has Olvera Street.
The shops and restaurants lining the narrow brick walkways rely heavily on participants in regular cultural gatherings, city office workers dine out, school trips and Dodgers baseball fans enjoying Mexican food before or after the game. take. But the coronavirus has killed tourism, keeping office workers and students at home, canceling events and emptying stadiums of fans.
In addition, the location doesn’t lend itself to options that give other businesses a chance, such as curbside pickup or takeout dining. While the city, which owns the property, has waived rent through June, owners are still in pain.
Most businesses have reduced hours and closed a few days a week, said Valerie Hanley, treasurer of the Olvera Street Merchants Association Foundation and a shop owner.
“We’re not like a local restaurant in your town,” Hanley said. “We’re one of those little niche things. If you can’t fill the space with the right people, we’re in trouble.”
Edward Flores said he got into debt to run Juanita’s Cafe, a small food stand in his family for three generations. He doesn’t expect a turnaround until next year.
The business has declined by more than 87 percent. His best month during the pandemic was $3,100 in sales, less than his usual monthly rent. On his worst day, he worked 13 hours a day and racked up $11.25 in sales.
“I didn’t have a doomsday. I was just amazed,” he said. “I thought, ‘An incredible waste of time.'”
On a recent Friday, the smell of frying takitos filled the air as it served afternoon customers a steady trickle of pausing for a quick bite.
Small groups strolled the market where small stalls running down the center of the street sell everything from votive candles from Virgen de Guadalupe to Frida Kahlo T-shirts to Lucha Libre wrestling masks.
Angie Barragan, who wore a white dress after attending a baptism at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, climbed atop a Stuffed Bureau George with her cousin for a $10 snapshot.
Photographer Carolina Hernandez handed out two large sombreros, and Barragan draped a bar of fake bullets over his shoulder, held a toy rifle on his thigh, and the cousins performed steely bandito poses.
Barragan grew up in East LA but moved to Las Vegas 30 years ago. It was a tradition to take pictures with the donkey whenever she returned to L.A. with her mother, who died of heart disease in January.
She said of her mother’s absence, “It’s all my beautiful experiences as a child, but it’s also bitter. I feel like her spirit is here with us. It’s one of her favorite places.”
It was a more subdued scene last Tuesday – somewhat reminiscent of the ghost town the street became in late December as the virus raged and outdoor dining stalled.
JJ Crump, who brought his wife and three children from Lake Charles, Louisiana, was overwhelmed compared to the trip four years earlier.
“Last time we were there, it was side by side,” Crump said.
Medina’s shop, Oliverita Village, which used to be open daily, has been reduced to five days a week.
He is mindful of the lives lost in the pandemic, including several of his Mexican suppliers – an artisan who shaped large pottery, a leatherworker and two women embroidered on shirts. She is looking to honor them when Day of the Dead is celebrated in November when she hopes business will do better.
“Thank God I’m still alive,” she said. “But I need customers.”