Audio slideshow by Elettra Fiumi and David Patrick Alexander.
A local Soundview botanica owner counts on days like Saint Michael’s Day on September 29th to boost his flagging business.
“People aren’t going to the saints as much as before,” said John Santiago, owner of the Botanica store, which manages to maintain a steady revenue of approximately $53,000 per year. His is one of the last standing local botanicas. Three others closed down in the last year.
In a city still trying to recover from high jobless rates and a global economic collapse, this Botanica maintains a faithful clientele by offering religious tidbits of advice and a little generosity alongside wooden crucifixes, or bath soap that wards off evil. When someone in need can’t afford to buy something, he might give them a candle for free.
Santiago said sales of merchandise that includes skulls, rosaries and candles have gone down since the 1980s except for a brief surge around 9/11.
“People were getting scared and thinking they were going to die so they should clean their souls,” he said. “People only believe when something tragic happens.”
Sales increase drastically mostly around religious days like the day after Halloween, Christmas day and New Year’s Eve. Most clients don’t remember other saint days throughout the year, but when Santiago reminds them, he recalls them thanking him by giving him “muchos blessings.”