To hear original in context, go to The Urbanist, episode 98. This piece starts at minute 21.
AMBI: ALAMEDA UNDER, KEEP UNDER
Eileen Smith is a travel writer who has lived in Santiago for nine years. I often see her on her blog or other websites giving newcomers tips on where to go buy some item. The funny thing is that quite often, she doesn’t give a specific store. She gives them a street. That’s because Santiago is full of these little clusters. Eileen says she first started learning about clusters before she even came to Santiago.
ACT SMITH1 0:15
I went on a website and asked the question, ‘donde puedo comprar bicicleta.’ Where can I buy a bike. And everyone said go to San Diego. And I was like, really? Like, there’s only one place to buy bicycles in Santiago, and it’s San Diego, and if I don’t go there, I can’t buy one?
I challenge her to tell me what street she would use to buy certain items. And yes, I’ve sped this up a bit.
ACT: SMITH2 0:29
WHERE DO I GO FOR, CARDBOARD BOXES?
FINISHED LIGHTING SUPPLIES
BUILDING LIGHTING SUPPLIES
Antonia Lopez de Bello
10 de Julio or Vergara
ANTIQUE FURNITURE BEING REFINISHED
GUNS AND AMMO
We are walking past Tenderini, a little pedestrian street. I ask what’s on offer there.
ACT SMITH3 0:13
Vacuum cleaner parts. And you can also find blender carafes.
1:38 to here
I know that clusters of specialty shops aren’t unique to Santiago. But I would challenge anyone to find me another block where more than half the businesses survive selling vacuum cleaner parts and blender carafes. And her favourite store on Tenderini?
ACT SMITH4 0:10
La Casa de la Olla de Presión, which is House of the Pressure Cooker. So it’s where you can buy all your gaskets, or maybe the little spinny thing that goes on top.
Yes, that’s urban economics at work: giving us a store where we know we can find the right pressure cooker gasket. So how do these streets get started?
AMBI: ALAMEDA DOWN & OUT
AMBI: TENDERINI STREET TONE UNDER
NARR5 CONTINUED 0”15
I talked to a couple old-timers, and the clearest answer came from Ariosto del Fierro, who has run stores on Tenderini Street since 1959.
ACT ARIOSTO1 — UP FOR FIRST FEW WORDS, THEN DOWN AND UNDER NARR
yo tenia tienda allá en el local 16, y al frente mia había un local de repuestos. allí vendían todo. vi entrar y entrar a la gente, y a mi no entraba nadie! fui perdiendo plata, y _______ entonces, perdi el negocio, y me decidi cambiarme, y que vendi todo el oro, lo que sea, las her ramientas, todo, y con un amigo me ayudo a eligirlo a lo que tenía que comprar, porque yo no sabia nada de repuestos. tuvimos que comprar todo.
He says he had a jewellery shop and the first spare parts store was right across the street. After the coup d’etat in 1973, the jewellery business fell apart, but the shop across the street had one customer after another. He sold his gold and tools and went into the spare parts business — even though he didn’t know anything about it.
UP WITH LAST WORDS OF DEL FIERRO, THEN OUT, JUST STREET TONE AMBI
I still don’t understand why some kinds of stores cluster while others don’t. I mean, how do you explain MacIver street?
We’ve got Opticas Schilling, Optica Santa Victoria, another Opticas Schilling, Optica Optilux, MasVision, Opticas San Jose, Optica Visol, Optica
FADE DOWN AND UNDER
On MacIver, you can choose from more than 60 opticians in three blocks.
FADE ACT-bodzin-walk UP FOR A FEW SECONDS, THEN BACK UNDER – KEEP UNDER THROUGH THE NARRS & ACT
A clerk tells me almost all of these shops have opened since she started working here 10 years ago. First there was one shop, then many more came to try and pick up a few scraps.
FADE UP MY LIST OF OPTICIANS AGAIN FOR 4 OR 5 SECONDS, THEN DOWN AND OUT
AMBI: CONTRERAS ROOMTONE
A few blocks away, I find the University of Chile geography department and talk to Professor Yasna Contreras, who has studied Santiago’s commercial clusters.
ACT CONTRERAS1 0:13
Lo que permite que estas economias de aglomeracion persistan es que las areas de los mercados son amplias. Va a San Diego, comprar una bicicleta, antes de Navedad? No se ve solamente Santaiguinos. Chilenos de las distintas regiones.
VO FEMALE: These agglomerations persist because they have wide market areas. Go to the bike shops, before Christmas, and you don’t just see Santiago residents, but rather Chileans from all regions.
People from up and down the country take buses into the capital every weekday in search of consumer goods. Often, they then haul entire bags of products back to the hinterland. A round-trip bus ticket can be much cheaper than the cost of shipping, and it’s more secure and reliable.
Contreras says that some parts of the city have tried to get agglomerations as an economic development strategy. The stores can advertise together and bring in more customers than diverse businesses could bring on their own. Plus, she says, it responds to something in Latin American culture.
ACT CONTRERAS2 0”03
Esto tiene que ver con algo cultural en la sociedad latinomericana.
But the explanation that resonates most with me may be that these clusters create space for discount vendors.
ACT CONTRERAS3 0:11
Si tu vas allá a MacIver, o Miraflores, tu vas a ver lentes de bien baja calidad. Yo creo que solas, individualmente dispersas, no habría nadie. Se perderian.
If you go to MacIver (macEEver) or Miraflores, you’ll see some quite low-quality glasses. I think that alone, dispersed and individualized, they wouldn’t exist. They’d lose out.
Santiago has very few large storefronts. So there’s no room for discount superstores. These clusters of cut-rate shops together serve the function that big stores might serve in a new city.
AMBI: Bring back up my long list of opticians, under NARR, for a few seconds. Under final NARR and then up into end of segment
For Monocle, in Santiago, this is Steven Bodzin.
NARR up for a few more store names before fading out.