Porto Alegre shopkeepers take days just to clean stores

They are urging government support to rebuild their businesses

Published on 24/05/2024 - 17:48 By Pedro Rafael Vilela - Porto Alegre

The receding waters of the Guaíba river in Porto Alegre’s historic downtown area have begun to unveil the extent of the damage caused by the flood that hit the state capital two weeks ago. With the power still out, the work of the last few days has chiefly consisted of cleaning up the streets as well as the establishments.   

“It should take me all week to be able to reorganize, clean up, and set up store again at this rate,” said Vespasiano de Menezes Neto, the manager of a drugstore near the capital’s public market, which is still flooded.

On Monday afternoon (May 20), Neto was leading a group of employees in a strenuous clean-up of the facilities, which were still impregnated with fetid mud. On the floor were boxes of medicines and hygiene products. The water had reached a height of around 1.5 meters, he noted. Neto even tried to move up the shelves, but the flooding rendered 70 percent of the goods unusable, as well as computer equipment and furniture.

“Medicines are products with high added value. We estimate losses of BRL 200 thousand to BRL 250 thousand in products alone,” he stated.

A few meters away, at the 15 de Novembro square, Li Hong Shia’s bazaar of popular Chinese goods was on its fourth day of cleaning, with a lot still to be done. Staff member Edson Nunes said they had only a few hours to prepare before the waters of the Guaíba rose.

“We didn’t imagine it would rise so much and we only lifted up one shelf. When we got back, we had to throw most of the products away. Washing was no use, with all that contaminated water,” he recounted. Nunes believes the store should not reopen to the public for another 10 days.

Need for support

Porto Alegre (RS), 20/05/2024 – CHUVAS RS- LIMPEZA - Comerciantes retiram entulho e limpam lojas para retomar os negócios no Centro Histórico de Porto Alegre. Foto: Rafa Neddermeyer/Agência Brasil
Shopkeepers remove debris and clean up stores to resume business in Porto Alegre’s historic downtown area - Rafa Neddermeyer/Agência Brasil

Shaken by the extent of the damage to their businesses, shopkeepers interviewed by Agência Brasil are hoping for more support from the government in rebuilding their establishments.

“I lost a fridge, a printer, and hundreds of items in the mud. Taxes have to be lowered so we can pay employees,” Li Hong Shia declared.

The owner of an optician’s shop on Otávio Rocha avenue, Paulo Roberto sees no alternative to recovering his business without direct government support.

“We depend on [the government]. If they don’t support us, we’re screwed. [We need] tax cuts, something like that. I have no idea how much I’ve lost. We’re starting to clean up, I’ve put half the of the store stuff on the street. Only later will we be able to tell how things are.”

“If everyone had done their bit, this wouldn’t have happened. Nobody believed we could get such a huge amount of water, but [the government] had this information much earlier,” Vespasiano complained. “I pay BRL 15 thousand a year in taxes for the building alone. The store is 25 years old, so you can figure out how much we’ve contributed,” he added, arguing for debts to be forgiven or negotiated.

Tax deadline extension

Among the measures announced so far in favor of affected businesses in Rio Grande do Sul state, the federal government has extended the due dates for federal taxes and installments for taxpayers in municipalities in a state of public calamity.

At state level, the Treasury Secretariat has made tax payments more flexible. The city hall has extended the due dates for a number of taxes.

The Porto Alegre Shopkeepers’ Union, which represents 20 thousand companies in the capital, has launched an internet campaign to bring consumers and shopkeepers closer together and try to strengthen small businesses.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Graça Adjuto

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