Old San Juan, a sector that is home to at least 800 businesses and 500 commercial offices, has been in the dark for the better part of the last six weeks, which have kept many from reopening since Hurricane María made landfall on Sept. 20.
In an open letter posted on Facebook, a group of Old San Juan retailers warned that if power isn’t restored within the next 15 days, a “great number of establishments” will not reopen, and thousands of jobs will be lost.
“If in the next 15 days they do not fix the power in Old San Juan many businesses will close and thousands of direct and indirect jobs will be irretrievably lost,” said Juan Fernández, of the Stuffed Avocado shop on San Francisco Street, on behalf of the retailers.
“There is no other sector that contributes more foreign currency to the island’s economy than tourism. Old San Juan and Puerta de Tierra are Puerto Rico’s showcase,” they said.
In the letter, the group said more than 10,000 jobs are at risk.
During a tour of Old San Juan Monday, it was evident that the majority of shops were either on full lockdown or operating during limited hours.
Riccardo Causin, owner of Italian restaurant Il Bacaro Venezia and Spiga Paninoteca & Bar in Old San Juan, said the lack of energy after Hurricane María has represented an economic blow of an unexpected magnitude for businesses in the historic part of the capital.
“We will literally have to start from scratch. Old San Juan is a hub for the island that directly impacts Puerto Rico’s tourism image and needs to be energized as soon as possible, or else end up being a ghost town,” he said.
Causin was finally able to open the doors of Il Bacaro on Cruz Street after securing a power generator for the restaurant.
“I’ve been in Old San Juan for 12 years and I have a loyal clientele that has supported me all these years, and I hope they continue to be there, because otherwise it will be very difficult to continue operating,” he said.
In the letter, the retailers claimed they had not seen any Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority employees working on affected services accessible via rooftops.
Jorge Bracero, deputy equipment operator for PREPA’s San Juan central office, said via his Facebook page that while there have been no problems accessing and repairing buried power cables, the challenge has been working the areas where poles hold up power lines.
PREPA cannot use helicopters to get into Old San Juan and work must be coordinated with neighbors, he said.
“It’s a complicated process that is being worked on. Old San Juan hasn’t been forgotten. The technical unit has been doing its job and are giving 100 percent for their district,” Bracero said, urging Old San Juan residents and retailers to talk to building administrators to help PREPA workers with the required logistics.