The Ajuntament's plans for Barcelona's famous open-air market, Els Encants, are meeting with a mixed response from market people.
Part flea market, part street market, always a slice of life, Els Encants has been housed on its present site between Cartagena and the Meridiana since 1931. Most Barcelona residents will be familiar with its charms - new goods at bargain prices mixed in with second-hand antiques and oddities, all served up in a small space with lashings of atmosphere. Outside on the pavements is the unofficial version where shifty men proffer the instantly binnable whilst keeping an eye out for the Guardia Urbana.
However, what may seem quaint or colourful to the casual shopper adds up to harsh conditions for the people who work here. "The stall-holders are in an untenable situation" says Alfredo Juan, manager of the Barcelona Municipal Markets Institute. "Fifty thousand people pass through on a Saturday and there's hardly room to move".
The Association of Vendors has long complained of the inadequacy of the site, citing lack of space for unloading goods, storage and cleaning up the rubbish as major problems. Whilst on one side of the market, the stalls are in fact sturdily-built quasi-shops, on the other side many stall-holders have to make do with little more than shacks, and those in the central area can only lay out their wares on the ground. Nonetheless, although the market vendors did vote in favour of the move last September (1996), many still have misgivings.
The council's idea is to move the market into the Glories building, that rather bleak-looking ring of concrete in the centre of the roundabout which currently serves as a car park.
The circular two-storey building was designed by local architects Andreu Arriola and Carme Fiol in 1991, as part of the preparations for the Olympics, but never proved popular as parking space. Under the Encants scheme, market stalls will be housed on the bottom floor reserved for storage. More stalls and room for the auction will be accommodated around the park, which will remain untouched although it is hoped the proximity of the market will revitalise one of the city's least-used green spaces. The project will cost around 1,000 million ptas (€6 million) and Alfredo and Juan expects work to begin next June.
Lluis Barberà, semi-retired after a life-time running his furniture stall, is all for the scheme which he calls "a great victory". He has no worries that the move will diminish the market, pointing out in any case that "the person who goes to buy may be a bit bohemian but the vendors aren't." Maria Millet who has sold hair accessories from her stall for the past 23 years, is resigned to the change but would rather stay put. "When we have to pay for the new stall, who is going to give a loan to a person of sixty?" she asks. Bookseller Antonio Madrid is totally against the scheme "due to the high cost for us". Worries over the cost of the move are voiced by many stall holders.
Diego Escámez, President of the Vendors Association thinks the move has to be seen in wider context of the planned re-development of the whole of Glories area, in which case the it becomes inevitable. He is confident the life and diversity of the market can be maintained on the new site. "What you can't do is to turn it into just another shopping mall", he says. "There must be room for all of us from the most established down to the most marginal, but a market can have character without bad conditions for its workers."
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