Opinion – Cleo Guimarães: Americanas wouldn’t be missed like Mesbla do Passeio Público

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Opinion – Cleo Guimarães: Americanas wouldn’t be missed like Mesbla do Passeio Público

It is true that, if it closes its doors because of such accounting inconsistency of billions of reais, Americanas will be somewhat missed in the daily lives of many people. But look carefully: being missed on a day-to-day basis is very different from being missed.

It takes an emotional relationship with a company to see an old ad or walk by where it used to work and unearth that genuine “Oh, that was great” feeling. I can’t imagine anyone thinking that way about the future, lamenting the end of the network’s operations if it leaves the map. We’re all going to buy fudge paper, sets of three panties with one obligatorily beige, and chocolate bars somewhere else. Bye and blessing.

Cariocas really feel that pang in their hearts when they see the clock on top of the art deco building where, from the 1950s to 1999, the most beloved department store in Rio de Janeiro was installed: Mesbla. Not just any Mesbla. That one.

She did miss you. It was huge, sold everything and had a restaurant on the top floor that seemed very chic to me, and where people ate without the slightest hurry, with an absurd view of Guanabara Bay in front of them. I remember my dad ordering scalopinho with Marsala sauce, which I had no idea what it was but it sounded great.

That was the day we went to buy a bicycle (“It has to have a little basket”, he said) to give my mother as a birthday present. I must have been about five years old, and on the way I remember passing through a section of cars. They sold cars too. And guitars. And bras. And Falcon dolls. And stationery for us to collect.

If memory serves me correctly, in addition to the restaurant there was a cafe on another floor, where I ate the best coxinha of my life. It was, in fact, a breaded chicken drumstick, similar to the famous creamy thigh from Confeitaria Colombo. Gastronomy, as you can see, was serious business in that Mesbla, where, according to its own vendors, “the only thing they didn’t sell was coffins.”

It seems true. The cups where we drank milk with Toddy at home, the first wristwatch (Mickey Mouse’s, with the little arms working as pointers), the first bodyboard and some other “first” things in my life were bought there and given to me gift for my parents, uncles, aunts and godparents. At home, a typical middle-class family, under the Christmas tree it was almost impossible not to have at least one green and/or red package from Mesbla. One of them once carried a pair of Bubble Gummers.

It was cute, with characters drawn on the sides and smelling like bubblegum. I thought it was for me, but no. Because of my flat feet, I could only wear orthopedic boots and, for a few minutes, I thought my manumission was there, in that box that exuded tutti-frutti. Nothing. Bubble Gummers were for my brother, I would keep the boots, always with them, until I was six years old. A little trauma linked to Mesbla, which I just remembered. It was stronger than me.

Icon of the city center, the clock on top of the building in front of Passeio Público is still there and, even today, almost 25 years after the store closed, many people still call it “the Mesbla clock”. It could: in its heyday, when it had the company logo in red neon beside it, it served as a parameter for those who passed in front of the building.

The correct time was the one he set, and cariocas had the habit of adjusting their own clock by looking at the Mesbla tower, more reliable than the “correct time”, the number 130 of the telephone company. As if that wasn’t enough, the clock for many long years rang the Ave Maria punctually at 6 pm and even had flags beside it that, in a kind of code that only the most knowledgeable could understand, announced the weather forecast. An impressive thing.

Mesbla may have especially captivated the cariocas also because it helped to move the city’s cultural and sports life by investing in cool events. Sponsored concerts by Legião Urbana; partnered with the first Rock in Rio, in 1985 (an official festival T-shirt purchased there entitles you to entry to one of the concert days); launched Alternativa, its own clothing label for young people, and with it brought one of the Brazilian stages of the world surfing circuit to the sands of Barra da Tijuca, in 1992. This was when the sport was far from being this media phenomenon that moves fortunes of today’s national and international companies.

With an eye on the strength of its name, two entrepreneurs announced, in May 2022, that they would bring the brand back. Now as a marketplace site, with over 250,000 products in hundreds of different categories. “Be a Mesbler”, announces the page that is on the air, trying to be “disruptive” by using the language of millennials who weren’t even born when Mesbla was Mesbla. If ecommerce worked, I don’t know. I hope so. The idea was good.

But the truth is that every time I walk down Rua do Passeio, out of habit, I try to adjust my watch to the time indicated on the building, where until last December there was a branch of… Americanas. Ironically, it was the company, now breathing through machines, that occupied for a good few years (and without the slightest whim) some floors of a place that was so important for the cariocas. Nowadays, Mesbla, that one, is just a portrait in newspapers and internet sites. But how it hurts.

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