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Posted August 26, 2010 by publisher in Cuban American Business

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ROBERTO KOLTUN | EL NUEVO HERALD STAFF

Back in July, Corinna Moebius opened a store that sold locally produced crafts with the hope of drawing in some of the hundreds of tourists that visit Little Havana each week.

The tourists never came, though, and her savings began to run out.

So, after just two months Moebius decided that next week she’ll close Bordercross, her cultural shop at 1333 SW Eighth St.

“My passion is this neighborhood,’’ Moebius said. “But I just can’t compete with the tourist trap up the street. The tourists just don’t walk down here.’‘

The past decade has brought a surge in tourism in the historic Calle Ocho corridor of Little Havana. But it hasn’t created the foot traffic necessary to keep souvenir and crafts stores open. It’s even harder for those businesses located more than a few blocks from the popular Máximo Gómez Park, known as Domino Park, where tour buses tend to make brief stops.

“There is something to be said about this tourist problem,’’ said Eloy Aparicio, who heads the Calle Ocho Chamber of Commerce. “It’s nothing new, but these buses just stop in front of the park and don’t let tourists walk any farther. It’s as if no other business in the neighborhood exists.’‘

Aparicio, Moebius and others have complained about the brevity of the stops made by commercial tour bus operators. They also say they can’t compete against other business owners who pay commissions to drivers who stop in front of their stores.

MIX OF CULTURE

On average, between 100 and 200 tourists visit Little Havana each day, city and business officials say. Most stay near the SW Eighth Street and SW 15th Avenue intersection, where they can take photographs of people playing dominoes at the park, watch how cigars are rolled and order Cuban espressos from walk-up restaurant windows.

“It’s such a mix of culture and it’s so strange that everybody here speaks Spanish, even though we’re in the United States,’’ said Abeer AlHarbi, a visitor from Texas, during a 15-minute stop in front of the park. “Maybe we don’t have enough time in the shops . . . but it’s an eight-hour bus tour and there’s a lot of Miami to see.’‘

Tour operators say they face limitations.

“Tourists want to see South Beach; they want to see Coral Gables,’’ said Lili Pérez, manager of Miami Nice Tours. “We have to take into account that we can’t park anywhere we want or drive down any of the streets, either. . . . But we do what we can, because Little Havana is an important part of Miami’s history and we want it to be known.’‘

Pérez said she doesn’t accept commissions from businesses, although she does look out for stores or restaurants that will offer her clients discounts. She adds that the paying of commissions is a well-established tradition in the industry.

One of the stores that most benefits from tourism on Calle Ocho is Little Havana To Go, a souvenir shop with a blue mosaic front that neighbors the park. Owner Carole Taylor said that although she empathizes with other business owners who struggle to survive, she too has asked tour operators to make longer stops in the neighborhood.

“All of us want Little Havana to become a major tourist destination. It has a ways to go, but I’ll tell you that it’s come a hell of a long way in the past decade,’’ Taylor said. “I opened my business here because I saw the opportunity with all those buses making stops in front of the park. When I saw that, and I saw how the building next door was empty, I decided to take a chance and rent the space.’’

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