Sergio Paluzo (44 years old) has been serving customers of his tobacconist with gloves and mask for more than a month from the gate that covers the door of his store. He just reinforced it with a recycled screen from a chewing gum shelf to protect himself from the coronavirus , a threat now more tangible than the theft risk. The tobacco and stamp vendors operate through a state administrative concession and their businesses provide a public service that has not been affected by the measures of the royal decree that regulates the state of alarm .
“The atmosphere is weird. People come in a hurry and are afraid, “he explains. Its tobacconist is on Calle Alfonso XII, in the heart of Seville. Before the pandemic emptied the streets, it was a must for hundreds of tourists. “An average of 600 people a day used to enter. This afternoon, in the two hours I have opened, six have passed, ”he says. “People only buy tobacco. Everything else is stopped, “he admits.
Since the crisis erupted, its sales have dropped 60%. Sources from the Union of Tobacconists of Spain say that until the end of April there will be no official data on the impact. The decrease in direct sales is compounded by the loss of income from the vending machines installed in the bars managed by many tobacconists and the suspension of the Lottery.
He has not yet consulted with his manager what government aid may be used to mitigate the effects of the crisis. “For those who most of their income comes from the vending machines, the closure of the premises has meant ruin, without counting on the tobacco that stays in there and which cannot be disposed of,” explains Antonio Cruz, Vice President of the Provincial Association of Tobacconists of Seville. “The main concern is that not all our associates have sanitary material, such as gloves or masks, or protective screens that cost around 200 or 300 euros,” he adds.
When the confinement was not yet a reality, the fear of closing the tobacco shops caused the massive purchase of tobacco. After the initial avalanche, smokers arrive with a dropper. “The center is not a residential area and those who enter are passing through. Of course, those who used to ask for a pair of packs now take a carton or three bags ”, indicates Paluzo.
In Spain there are 13,500 tobacconists in which 25,000 people work, according to the Union of Tobacconists of Spain. Paluzo’s situation cannot be extrapolated. “In humble neighborhoods, more tobacco is sold because the presence of the police on the streets has reduced contraband,” he says.
“In the afternoon there are hardly any people on the street. I have closed the closing at seven o’clock in the afternoon ”, says Paluzo. His great aunt opened the tobacconist about 50 years ago and it has been passed from generation to generation until reaching his hands. A very common family management in this type of business that, for the moment, has limited the incidence of ERTE in the sector , they explain in the Union of Tobacconists of Spain.
“No one in my family remembers a similar situation,” admits Paluzo, who already thinks about recovering normality. “One of the most important things will be to minimize the economic burdens that may have been generated in these weeks for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs. It will be hard work, but among all of us, we will surely get it ”, venture from the Union of Tobacconists.