El Rastro returns to Madrid with the scars left by the pandemic

Eight months after the start of the pandemic, Madrid recovers the Rastro, the most important street market in the city and one of its great symbols. Among its salespeople, the word fight is the most repeated. Fight to get ahead despite Covid-19 and fight to be able to reopen their positions with all health guarantees “But respecting history as much as possible”, explains Mayka Torralbo, coordinator of the platform of street vendors of the Community of Madrid.

They have been long weeks of meetings and disagreements between the City Council and the associations that represent 80% of the almost a thousand open-air positions. “We had to fight very hard,” says Torralbo, who continues: “They wanted to dismantle the Rastro and its thematic areas. We do not know the ultimate goal, nor do we have proof, but there have always been many interests around this market due to its location in the heart of the city, there have always been attempts to reduce it to a minimum, to keep the name but not to bother and We believe that the coronavirus was the perfect excuse ”.

El Rastro is the last emblematic place in Madrid that remained to be opened after the confinement. It was the first time in its 400-year history that this market has remained closed, not even in the civil war when it was maintained despite the bombs.

The return of the Trail coincides with a improvement of the pandemic throughout the Community, after a very complicated start of autumn in which Madrid led the rate of infections in the European Union. Right now it is the territory with the lowest cumulative incidence in the country, with 285 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The market that made the center of Madrid vibrate every Sunday now reflects the wounds and scars left by Covid-19 throughout the city. “I’ve been here for 10 years and I’ve never seen it like this. There are far fewer people because the capacity is limited and those who come from outside are greatly missed. If you come to Madrid and do not visit the Rastro, it is like not having come, without them we can only get out to survive ”, says Abdalá Drabn.

A few meters below, Miguel Ángel Martínez runs a craft stall, “almost everything is done by my wife”, he clarifies while remembering his beginnings in the Rastro: “I started with 13 or 14 years old and I am 57, so do the math,” he says with a laugh. He feels lucky because he has been able to survive all these months “thanks to a little job, but not all his colleagues have had the same luck,” he says.

Torralbo confirms the extreme situation of many street vendors, with “people who have been evicted, who have had to go into debt or who are going to food banks. And this situation is not going to improve overnight because, due to restrictions, only 50% of the vendors can come every Sunday and because there are no tourists, who account for half of the sales.

But the Rastro is much more than the outdoor stands. In its streets there are 17,000 residents and more than 400 fixed stores that have also suffered the consequences of the pandemic and the closure of the street market. “People did not come because they thought everything was closed, but it was not, we continued,” says Manuel González, president of the Nuevo Rastro Merchants Association.

Owner of an antique store, González estimates that each physical store will have accumulated losses of around 11,000 euros since March. “That is those that have been able to stay open, because 25% of the stores have closed permanently,” he explains. Although, above the economic damage, there is the loss of life caused by the pandemic: “Many of our stores are run by elderly people who have suffered the consequences of Covid-19. Only on Mira el Río Baja street, which has about 54 establishments, 5 merchants have died and more than 30 have suffered from the disease. The moral and psychological damage has been tremendous ”, laments Manuel González.

Like the rest of the city, the Rastro learns to live in that new normal that has made it less spontaneous, with drones monitoring the capacity, police on every corner and streets where you can only get on or off. But it still has space for seekers of special objects “that you can’t find anywhere else”, as José Antonio Carmona says. A good connoisseur of this market, he is convinced that “it will recover again, little by little the center is filled with life again, it is not the usual Rastro because these are difficult times, everyone is half scared, but we will move on”.