Nurses who prepare and sell yogurt, law students who offer medical supplies and young people with a liquor store in their living room.
The Residencial El DanalMM complex, located in the northwest of the Venezuelan capital, is made up of two towers with a total of 180 apartments. Of these, 123 are sold food, detergents, liquors, desserts, medical supplies …
Rut Hernández, a law student in her last year, comes down every week from the 19th to the 12th floor of her building to buy the Greek yogurt prepared by Jasmín Castillo, a former nurse.
“The towers have become an Arab market where everything is sold. We have a chat (on whatsapp) of the building’s condominium and through there I receive hundreds of daily publications of what is available to buy,” Castillo tells BBC Mundo.
In the chat there are messages of all kinds of products. For example, photos of ice cream with different flavors with offers of several popsicles for US $ 1 or US $ 1.5. It depends on the taste and creaminess.
In Venezuela, small businesses within houses are common in towns and popular neighborhoods, but in large condominiums or urbanizations from middle class son a new phenomenon.
Most of the residents of this building are doctors, lawyers, politicians, members of a battered middle class that has had to reinvent itself with sales to survive the economic debacle that has been in Venezuela since 2015 and is now exacerbated by the pandemic.
Taking this step must not have been easy for this group of Venezuelan society that, culturally, has always hidden its moments of economic difficulty.
Since mid-March, when the quarantine began in Venezuela, Jasmín and other neighbors have transformed the towers into a very well organized vertical hypermarket that allows neighbors to earn a little money and avoid going out in order not to challenge the Caracas quarantine , very strict for months.
Most do not have a large stock of items, but enough to sell, make a profit and replenish inventory. All you need is a space in the fridge or some boxes in some corner of the room.
Operating room for yogurt
Jasmín, who worked in intensive care in the health sector for 13 years, started her yogurt business during the isolation period due to the pandemic in March. Although he admits that sales are not his specialty, he confesses that the economic situation left him no choice.
“In 2018 I left my position as a nurse because of the low salary. It made me sad, I liked the job. I never thought of being a salesperson. Mine is an operating room, my patients, my surgeries. That was my world, but not there are many options we have here, “he says.
“The economic crisis that Venezuelans are experiencing, and which has become chronic, is affecting the middle class. There are people who are not living, they are surviving. Some of my neighbors can no longer even pay the monthly fee for the condominium, a lot fewer have to buy food, “he says.
In the community there is a code of respect and solidarity. Each one sells a different product and they make purchases among themselves. Jasmín confesses that what she acquires the most are desserts.
Ruth, who buys yogurt for Jasmine, sells medical supplies. Its star items are masks, gloves, alcohol gel, and face shields, in high demand now. She is happy with the sales.
Rut not only sells to her neighbors, but also through Instagram to buyers from other parts of the city.
At just 22 years old and without having completed her law studies, she decided to register her company in January. But it was in March that she was clearer about where she was going to invest her money.
His initial idea was always to sell medical supplies in detail, after last year he underwent aneurysm surgery and could not find the necessary material for the operation.
In hospitals in Venezuela, the lack of supplies is common, so the patient himself has to supply them to the center.
“When I was looking for what I needed, they only sold it wholesale, so I decided to have my own business contacting national wholesalers and I sell by units, just as people need it when they are going to undergo surgery,” he says.
Hernández says that at the time of his operation he couldn’t find a place to buy something as simple as a suture. Now she is happy that she can help others from home.
The hegemony of the dollar
All businesses in the residential complex are traded with prices in dollars, although the official currency in the country is the bolivar. The dollar has circulated for more than a year in a common way in the hands of Venezuelans, and most prefer them to avoid that their money loses value daily due to the devaluation.
Payment methods are cash, international transfers or in bolivars at the exchange rate issued by the Central Bank of Venezuela.
Jasmin’s yogurt prices are between US $ 1 and US $ 3.5. Their weekly sales vary according to how expensive the price of the US currency is.
“When the price of the dollar rises, my sales fall; but immediately after it falls, buyers appear. It is difficult to run a business like this,” he says.
At penthouse José González, a 39-year-old merchant marine, lives in tower B. Its heading is dairy, specifically the cheeses brought from the area of the Venezuelan plains (west). He wants to be more flexible and although he puts the payment reference in dollars, like everyone else, 90% of what he receives for sales is in bolivars.
“I try to be as fair as possible. The dollar is not our currency. I look for flexibility for the customer thinking like a customer. I also give the opportunity for people to take the item and pay for it when they can,” he explains.
González was forced to sell cheese after he began to see his savings drain. He has not worked for more than a year, when his last contract with a transnational company expired.
The company where he worked had nine ships at the disposal of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) but due to late payments and the sanctions imposed by the United States on the state oil company, the transnational was forced to terminate the contract and suspend relations.
He is waiting for the world to return to normality and the oil market to stabilize before going out to look for work again.
For now, he is not earning enough with cheeses. You have just entered the market in your community. You are surprised how in just a few months the number of apartments for sale has increased. He risks saying that they have all become “bachaqueros”, a term known in Venezuela for people who resell products.
“We are forced to do so. There is no other way out. I think the situation has affected at least 80% of the families in the building. It has been the result of a mix between the pandemic and the country problem,” he reflects.
“There are two classes in the country: a small group with a very large purchasing power, that has a lot of money, and another part that is lower class. The middle class enters there, we become lower class,” he says.
New horizon for young people
Rut, like José, sees the sales business as the solution to survive in Venezuela at this time, since the lack of employment and low wages prevent young people from working in the country.
She was visionary not to run with the same future as some friends recently graduated in her profession who work in supermarkets because they have not gotten opportunities to enter the job market.
Just as enthusiastic is Cristian Roa, 19 years old.
From the 16th floor, the only one manages the liquor office in the entire building. He is a business administration student, but in an effort to make money to help his household finances, he ventured into quarantine in the rum, whiskey, soft drink and energy drink retail business. It has a variety of 15 products.
He started with a box of rum, then contacted a friend who works in the rum industry and through him he has obtained attractive prices to enter and stay in business.
Cristian is the most satisfied with sales from home. His neighbors have recommended him and he also makes deliveries throughout Caracas.
“I have done very well. I sell bottles in the two towers. They call me at one or two in the morning and I am going to make deliveries. They also come to my apartment,” he says.
This young man has bottles of rum available from US $ 4 onwards. Every week between Thursday and Sunday it sells US $ 120.
He never imagined that the business would prosper. After having understood the dynamics of the country’s economy, he advises that whoever can venture into the world of independent sales from the comfort of their home.
“People who want to sell something can achieve it, even though the country is difficult. Here whatever you want to sell, you sell it.”
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Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.