LA's historic Olvera Street hard hit by pandemic

Olvera Street has been hit hard by a drop in tourism combined with a ban on in-person dining.

Anabel Munoz Image
Friday, December 25, 2020
Iconic L.A. street struggling during pandemic
Businesses on Olvera Street, the oldest street in L.A. and the historic heart of the city, are struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- For nine nights culminating on Christmas Eve, the oldest street in Los Angeles typically comes alive with a festive re-enactment of the nativity story, as children playing Mary and Joseph go door to door seeking shelter where she can give birth to Jesus.

If the procession were held this year, they would find many of the businesses on Olvera Street shuttered.

The Mexican market, known as the birthplace of Los Angeles, has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with shops and restaurants closed and others barely hanging on. California is enduring by far its worst outbreak of the coronavirus, and Los Angeles is among the locations seeing the greatest spike.

"It's pretty grim right now," said Edward Flores, owner of Juanita's Café, where under the state's health order meals can only be served to-go and business is down 90%. "I know of six (businesses) that have gone belly up. These are my neighbors and my friends. To see them fail through no fault of their own is heartbreaking."

On Olvera Street, the tree-covered brick alley typically teeming with tourists is empty. Many of the shops that sell everything from traditional Mexican folk dresses to paintings of artist Frida Kahlo to sombreros are padlocked and the ones that are open have few, if any, customers. The strains of mariachi trios have fallen silent and the fragrance of taquitos frying has become less pungent.

The response to COVID-19 in California - various degrees of shutdowns and shifting rules limiting capacity and how food can be served - has been crippling for many businesses. But the impact on Olvera Street is somewhat unique.

The shops and eateries rely heavily on tourism that has collapsed worldwide under lockdown orders, quarantine rules or the reality that many people don't want to risk exposure during travel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.