Santa Ifigênia, in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, is full of self-proclaimed “kings” — the term locals use to signal expertise over a certain domain. The patch of century-old buildings is clustered with hundreds of shop owners declaring themselves anything from the “king of iPhones” to the “king of TV boxes.”

In recent years, Santa Ifigênia’s crown has slipped. 

“It’s sad, because the new generation will grow angry at us. Santa Ifigênia is [less and less] a reference for tech for people in São Paulo,” Wissam Atie — “the iPhone king” — told Rest of World. “Before, whenever someone wanted to buy electronics, they came to the city’s center. Now, people think there are only crackheads and scammers here. I think that’s very cruel.”

Santa Ifigênia has evolved since the 1960s as a specialized electronics district, but that might have spelled its doom. “From an urbanistic point of view, there are no advantages to this sort of [specialized] commerce,” Fábio Mariz Gonçalves, a professor of urban planning at the University of São Paulo, told Rest of World

According to store managers in the district, the rent for a 15-square-meter ground-floor space can soar as high as 20 thousand reais (about $3,750). This forces store owners to rent higher floors for storage, leaving no space for people to occupy. It means that between 6 and 6:30 p.m., a couple of hours after the stores shut, activity ceases and Santa Ifigênia is left deserted. “To be healthy, a neighborhood needs people … They’re the ones who stay when all the rest closes,” Gonçalves added. 

For Anderson Sérgio de Araújo, owner of Total Games (“the king of video games”), the presence of people who use drugs has alienated customers, too. “Like it or not, Cracolândia”  — “crack land,” the derogatory Brazilian term for places with high concentrations of people with drug addiction — “is killing some of the commerce here in the center,” Araújo told Rest of World. But he considers, too, that the country’s spending power is also in São Paulo’s city center. “So it’s a place where even if it’s not as busy as usual, it’s still profitable. So we persist,” he said.

Eliane Fuentes, the owner of Rei da Bateria (“the king of batteries”), agrees. Fuentes moved from the state of Paraná with her husband 28 years ago to open the store, beginning by selling spare batteries for cellphones and cameras, and expanding to sell all conceivable kinds.

“The TV shows a very sketchy situation, so sometimes, people are afraid of coming here. I’m not saying it’s not dangerous, but it’s more or less dangerous everywhere in São Paulo, right?” Fuentes told Rest of World. Though she complains about rent prices and admits some store owners are leaving, she isn’t planning to move out. “I think Santa Ifigênia may change, but it’ll never end.”

A man carries electronics along Santa Ifigênia in São Paulo.
A man wearing a Brazilian sports jersey eats fresh watermelon on the streets of Santa Ifigênia.
The tech shops in Santa Ifigênia's are housed in century-old buildings. The higher floors are used for storage.

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