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25 de Março: Over a Century Later This Brazilian Street Is Still in Arab Hands

25 de março street in São Paulo, BrazilThere were those who opened their doors in the late 19th century, others in the early 20th century and others half way through it. From then on, the economy of Brazil has grown, the dollar has oscillated, imported products arrived, as did foreigners and capital and large retail chains.

But they are still there, their doors open, in the hands of the same families, selling needles, embroidery, carpets, fabric, bedclothes. Shops on 25 de Março street, in downtown São Paulo, like Armarinho Ambar, established by Arab immigrants, many during the immigration period, remain in activity to date.

“We started with a dry goods store and up to now we develop the same work. Clients know the shop they are entering, our price policy, and they come in confidently, they know we do not oscillate, that we do not change address, skip from branch to branch,” said one of the owners of Armarinho Ambar, Elias Ambar, explaining why the shop has remained on 25 de Março for almost 60 years.

Armarinho Ambar was established by the Lebanese Georges Ambar, in 1953. It was initially established in the vicinity and moved to 25 de Março, where it is to date, in the 1960s.

Elias said that over the years he has seen some of the shops on 25 de Março street, originally in Arab hands, change owners. “People change their focus, as they are already established, they see other opportunities, abandon trade activities or the second generation goes elsewhere,” he explained.

According to the vice president of the São Paulo Trade Association, Roberto Mateus Ordine, trade on 25 de março, however, is still in the hands of Arabs. He compares it to other streets or commercial neighborhoods, like Bom Retiro, whose shops were mainly in Jewish hands, but are now mostly owned by Asians, and says that at 25 de Março Street, this phenomenon was much smaller.

To Ordine, two factors caused the Arabs to remain well established at their shops on 25 de Março and the surrounding areas. “First of all due to the points of sale opened in the region, which are very favorable. The second reason is for the tradition the Arabs have in trade. The area shows itself appropriate for business. Different from industry, which has to seek clients, 25 de Março street is where clients seek us,” he said.

According to him, the Asians that bought shops in the region mainly took advantage of the space left by the Northerners, who were also among the first retailers to get there.

Despite such natural Arab talent for trade, Ordine said that he has seen families of immigrants modernize over the years. Typewriters, ancient cash registers, they were all left in the past, according to him.

In fact, at Armarinho Ambar, João, Roberto and Elias, the three sons of the original founder, who are currently running the business, are graduated – Elias, in business administration. But the shop is no longer the main channel of sales, and Ambar has a site for online sales. Being informed about fashion tendencies is another rule that the shop makes a point of following.

According to Elias, the arrival of new businessmen in the street, Chinese, Indian and Koreans, made the trade that was already established seek modernization. “Every time a Chinese or Korean tradesman arrives and sets up a shop, with new decoration, everything new, bringing new products, the others are forced to seek change. With that, 25 de Março street and the surrounding region have been revitalized, both in terms of façades, appearance of shops and also in diversification of products and agility in offering new business,” said Elias.

But does the old Arab style of trading remain among the sons and grandsons of immigrants? According to Elias, he and his brothers speak, like their father did, a typical characteristic: the good principles.

“In the past there was much direct contact, and the contact with producers was more direct, easier. There is currently certain distance,” he said.

Currently, the second generation of the family is in charge of Armarinho Ambar, but one member of the third generation, Georges, is already also working. Both Armarinhos Ambar shops employ 70 people.

Anba

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