The restaurants and nightclubs in Ciudad Juarez are beginning to recover after seeing the number of businesses in the northern Mexican border city drop by about 40 percent amid a wave of drug-related violence.
Residents are once again lining up to eat at the few restaurants that survived the wave of murders and extortion in Juarez, located across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.
Young people, who remain fearful, are again packing nightspots in the border city.
"The paranoia of the people here made me stop going out because I was scared too. I've noticed a change now, maybe since the middle of 2011," Juarez resident Hector Servin said.
Some nightclubs and restaurants remain empty because they are located in dangerous areas; however, many of these establishments have opted to reopen in the so-called "safe zone" guarded by the Federal Police 24 hours a day.
The National Border Program, or Pronaf, security ring is in the zone, where 10 bars have reopened and two new establishments are welcoming the public.
Bar owners are advertising ladies' nights and boys' nights, among other events, to bring customers into their establishments and make money.
The turf war between the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels put a damper on the border city's busy nightlife in 2010, scaring away the thousands of visitors, especially Americans, who frequented bars to take advantage of Mexico's drinking age of 18.
"Before, we used to go to Juarez every weekend because the nightlife was really crazy. There were lots of people in the streets and lots of places to go, but I haven't gone even once since last year because my parents prohibited it," El Paso resident Raul Sanchez said.
"It's just this year that they let me go out to Juarez again and I see that my friends are going too. I really enjoy being able to go to Mexico again, though I'm still afraid," Sanchez said.
Since 2009, Ciudad Juarez, considered Mexico's murder capital, has lost about 300 bars and 4,000 eateries that were forced to close due to attacks, kidnappings and extortion by drug traffickers or because of the fear that leaves the streets deserted at night.
Before, we used to go to Juarez every weekend because the nightlife was really crazy. There were lots of people in the streets and lots of places to go, but I haven't gone even once since last year because my parents prohibited it.
- Raul Sanchez, resident of El Paso
In 2010, it was estimated that more than 70 percent of the few businesses that remained open were paying between 400 pesos and 4,000 pesos ($33 and $330) a month in protection money to drug cartels, Restaurant and Prepared Food Industry Association, or Canirac, area president Federico Ziga told Efe.
The number of diners at food establishments has risen by about 30 percent, "in part, because of the rise in arrests and complaints about extortion and kidnappings," Ziga said.
For now, the main concern of business owners is to ensure that their establishments will continue to operate.
"Right now, the priority is to stay open and convince people that it is a safe place. Later, we'll think about earning profits," a bar owner in the safe zone told Efe on condition of anonymity.
Although residents are still struggling, the situation is not as bad as in past years, the president of the Ciudad Juarez chapter of the National Chamber of Commerce, Alejandro Seade, said.
"We are seeing more people in restaurants and driving in the streets, unlike two or three years ago. They continue battling due to the situation, but it is not like what we had been experiencing since 2009," Seade said.
As of Dec. 31, 1,974 murders had been committed in Ciudad Juarez, well below the 3,115 murders registered in 2010, the Attorney General's Office said.