Old Rīga turns into a ghost town, says restaurant association

Old Rīga looks half-empty and abandoned, with many street-level windows, with cafes, restaurants, and small souvenir shops closed. The Hotel and Restaurant Association says that the Old Town is slowly becoming a ghost town, since these businesses were hit by the pandemic the hardest, Latvian Radio reported December 6.

Kaļķu, Šķūņu, Tirgoņu, Torņa, Kungu Street are just some of those where there's at least one empty window. Before, there was a light on, a smell of food, souvenirs in the windows that prompted people to come in. Now, on the dark and dusty windows and doors, there is an offer to rent and a phone number. Latvian Radio took to the streets of the Old Town to find out what residents think about the historic center.

“It's very difficult for us, for business, if people own something it's very difficult to keep it. This is not possible in our situation. It's been like that for years and it's going to continue and continue,” Kirils said.

Vēsma said: “It falls on middle-aged people and younger ones. Of course, Covid – all that sitting at home. I was an active pensioner too, I am now passive.”

“It saddens me, of course, but on the other hand, it was already foreseeable when the pandemic began and everything else has happened over the last two years,” Ann said.

Aigars told Latvian Radio: "Of course, it is a problem! Some kind of economic activity needs to happen! Every entrepreneur must think first of all about how he will get through this situation. The problem does not start and does not end here in Rīga or at the border of Latvia. It has started and spread somewhere much further around the world. This is not such a local solution that the Ministry of Economics will now engage in and offer some solutions in the short term. There is a problem. Look at it globally, broadly. "

There are more empty windows on Kalēju street outside Mikhail Chekhov's Riga Russian Theatre. There was still “Restorāns 3” until March.

“There are so many restrictions in the old city that it is very difficult to work,” explained Ēriks Dreibants, consultant at Restorāns 3 and head of the Pavāru māja in Līgatne.

The restaurant had to cut the summer terrace in size so that firefighters could pass through the street. Moreover, after 12:00 in the day, it was not possible to drive up to the restaurant, even for work purposes. Because of the many constraints, the Old Town has been transformed into a “dead zone” in recent years.

“When there was [former Mayor Nils] Ušakovs, the issues could be addressed, and the building board was understanding. The new Riga City Council came, says it will work, work, but does not, except that it makes the Rīga Restaurant Week,” said Dreibants.

The Latvian Hotel and Restaurant Association acknowledged that the effects of the pandemic are now felt most severely by catering companies.

Around 10-20 companies have closed their shops in the historic center of Rīga.

“The flow of tourists is smaller, and the flow of locals is smaller, too, and consequently Old Rīga is turning into a ghost town,” said Santa Graikste, executive director of the association.

The problem has also come to the city council's agenda. The quick solution is to organize a variety of events that would attract more tourists and local people. Aid programs are also a possibility,

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