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Fugitive Waves Episode #58 – The Kiosk Strategy

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A story from the plazas of Portugal, where small ornate kiosks that served traditional snacks and drinks once graced the city and brought people together. Neglected by time and pushed into abandonment by a dictator’s regime that suppressed public conversation and gathering, this tradition is now being revived, drawing people back to public space.

For more than a century, Lisbon’s public spaces were graced by beautiful Art Nouveau and Moorish-style kiosks — small, ornate structures that provided chairs and shade and served traditional Portuguese snacks and drinks.

These quiosques de refrescos (refreshment kiosks) were the heart of public life in the city. But, under the long dictatorship of Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar, which started in the 1930s, laws actually discouraged public gathering and conversation. Many restaurants closed down and the kiosks ­­fell into disrepair and all but disappeared.

That was, until Catarina Portas, a native of Lisbon, former journalist and entrepreneur stepped in.

“From the 19th to the 20th century, there were some hundred different kiosks in Lisbon. The city was full of them in different colors, different designs,” says Portas. She used to take walks around the city and see these sad, abandoned structures. She said, “I started to think, how could we bring this to our times?”

Portas began hunting down these kiosks — some still in place but boarded up, others in storage. She teamed up with architect João Regal to restore the buildings – not just to their former glory, but to their former place of prominence in Lisbon’s public spaces.

“We went to the city council with amazing photographs of the old kiosks, and we prepared all the old drinks and made them taste the drinks,” Portas says. The pitch worked —­­ Portas is fairly sure it was the drinks that convinced the council members. Their first three kiosks opened in 2009.

The kiosks offer affordable and traditional drinks and snacks, conversation and community – and also employment in a country struggling with the staggering levels of unemployment and a recession gripping much of western Europe.

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