In one of the busiest shopping complexes in downtown Lima, thousands of Peruvians squeeze past each other in narrow corridors and jockey for space in tiny rooms. Music blasts from stalls as shopkeepers try to lure customers with their seemingly infinite rows of goods. The smell of food and plastic lingers in the air.
This is Polvos Azules, an epicenter of retail activity in Lima and a place often referred to (in oxy moron) as the city’s “official informal market.” Legend has it that Polvos Azules, Spanish for “blue powders,” got its name in the 1540s from the material used by leather artisans to dye their skins on a small street behind the Presidential Palace. Five centuries later, the capitalist spirit embodied by those early merchants is alive and well, their leather goods replaced by faux-Levis jeans and bootleg Magic Mike DVDs.
Lima is a city where the formal and informal are naturally spliced, a condition exemplified nowhere better than the bustling and raucous stalls of the Polvos Azules. In the 1980s, semi-ambulant vendors began congregating in Polvos Azules, selling Walkmen and VHS video tapes, and eventually growing in number to upwards of 5,000. In the early ’90s, they organized, forming the Association of Owners of the Polvos Azules Commercial Center. The association negotiated a relocation program with the city, and built a large shopping complex with 2,400 stalls.
Vigo, Manuel (2013) Beneath Its Polished Surface, a Black-Market Shopping Center Thrives. In: Informal city dialogues. http://nextcity.org