Living in a technological age, brick-and-mortar retail is rapidly losing ground to its online competitors. To combat this, concept stores have appeared on the scene, ready to stimulate our senses and tempt us back to the physical shopping world. A concept store differs from its high-street rival by breaking the convention of simply selling products. Instead, it is a space where art, culture and commerce collide to promote a particular lifestyle, and its principles are often projected throughout, from the carefully considered layout right down to the detailed patchwork of a knitted blanket. Barcelona’s shopping scene has recently seen a rise in concept stores and, each with their own individual focus, we visited some of them to investigate this growing retail trend.
Having opened its doors in March 2014, Nuovum (Pintor Fortuny 30) is a design concept store based in the Raval. With its intriguing aesthetic, Nuovum strives to create a unique shopping experience through its large wooden geometric display, which hosts new and original pieces from up-and-coming local designers. Selling a range of accessories, jewellery and objects, owner Jose Sevilla explains his thinking behind the honeycomb-shaped cabinet. “I consider each of my designers a bee, and each are attributed their own honeycomb to exhibit their innovative designs. Collectively, they form a beehive, and make the honey that allows me to realise my own artistic vision.” Through its sweet decor and friendly atmosphere, Nuovum and its quirky limited editions (including a ceramic hippo lamp) make for an engaging shopping visit.
With its minimalist interior and timber shelving units, Nordic influences can also be felt in Dutch concept store Depot Holland (Bruc 149), located just one block north of the emblematic Casa de les Punxes. Founded by Renzo van Dijk and his wife Deborah, together they have curated a selection of largely sustainable products by Dutch brands and designers, including MUD Jeans—a denim company that allows customers to lease organic and recycled jeans for €12.50 per month. “All of our featured products have their own story, and this is what makes them so appealing.” Comprising a shop floor, a coffee corner, a private event room and an underground co-working space, Renzo considers Depot Holland more a concept platform than a concept store. “I want to give people the opportunity to meet, create and collaborate,” he explained. “Here, they can browse our products, work on their own projects and even chill out with a coffee.” Despite the plethora of concept stores in his native Amsterdam, Renzo admits that Barcelona still needs time to embrace them. “Customers come in and find it strange to see clothes and bicycles being sold next to one another, but they still come back!”
Another Barcelona neighbourhood that is home to a number of concept stores is the Born. Committed to selling handmade, traditional objects with a contemporary spin, La Local (Bòria 21) owner Mercè Cepeda acknowledges the city’s current creative ‘boom’, and calls for more concept stores to open across the city to give artists a platform to showcase their work. Inspired by Portugal’s continued dedication to handmade manufacturing, co-owner Estefania Sánchez is excited by the gradual resurgence of independent shops which had characterised the district’s streets until recently. “Ten years ago, you would never find a Pepe Jeans in the Born. But now, in the face of an era led by retail giants, concept stores are almost like a form of resistance.” This is a notion supported by Iván Moreno, owner of nearby Chandal (D’Allada-Vermell 13)—a retro concept store specialising in Polaroid cameras, niche magazines and children’s merchandise. “It’s so important to have local independent shops, because they capture the true spirit of the city. Zara and Starbucks are everywhere, but Barcelona’s concept stores offer products that can’t be found elsewhere.”
Shopping is about entertainment as well as acquisition, and it is refreshing to see that Barcelona’s retail scene refuses to be swallowed up by its online and high-street adversaries, who cannot recreate the unique experience cultivated by a concept store. Through their commitment to customer service, product display and brand integrity, these innovative businesses are steadily re-branding the art of retail. Slowly but surely, it seems that Barcelona is moving on from browsing racks and scanning shelves, and is instead waking up to the pleasure of an interactive and stimulating shopping experience.