The basement of Librería Canuda was once a favourite haunt of Barcelona’s bibiofiles. A McDonalds stands there now. At the end of Portal del’Angel, the inconspicuous, dusty-fronted Palacio del Juguete, which began selling toys in 1936, has been replaced by a sleek, bright Geox shop. In recent years, Barcelona has seen a number of its oldest and most iconic shops close, victims of a deep recession, new shopping habits and rising costs. Among other historic stores that have ceased to trade in the last year is the 170-year-old Jugueteria Monforte in Pl. Josep Oriol.
At the end of this year, the city may bid a sad farewell to many more of these old, family-run establishments. On December 31st, when decades of rent control end, these businesses will have to pay market prices for their enviable locations. Given that a number of these stores are located in the city’s most pricey areas and are already suffering from dramatic falls in sales, most will not be able to afford the hike in rents.
Since 1964, when Franco introduced protected rents for shopkeepers, many places have paid well below market prices for their locations. Twenty years ago, the Socialist government passed the Ley de Arrendamientos Urbanos (LAU), effectively ending this practice. However, a number of shops were given a moratorium of 20 years, providing, in theory, plenty of time to prepare for the day they would face the harsh reality of modern-day rental prices. The Palacio del Juguete has been owned by the same family since 1936 and paid just 1,000 euros each month for one of the highest foot-traffic locations in the city. Portal del Angel is Spain’s most expensive shopping street with rent per square metre currently at 270 euros per month. The only companies that can afford these city-centre prices are international brands. The toy shop reached an agreement and moved the shop to a cheaper location.
The Ajuntament has been left in a quandary. These beautiful historic shops, bars and cafes are an intrinsic part of the city’s fabric. Their names and ornate façades are familiar to anyone who has lived in the city for any time and are as typically ‘Barcelona’ as the Sagrada Familia or the Pedrera. Walking through the doors of candle shop Cerería Subirà, music shop Casa Beethoven or fabric store El Indio is to go back 100 years, before the ubiquitous high street chains made every street look the same. You’ll be hard pushed these days to find anyone who buys candles at Cerería Subirà, stamps from Filatelia Monge or gets their shirts from Camisería Deulofeu, but no one is happy for them to close. And, of course, these places are the ‘real Barcelona’ that tourists like to look into from the outside. They are a key part of the city’s charm.
In February of this year, despite insisting that the Ajuntament could not become involved in private matters, the mayor, Xavier Trias, was forced by the opposition to take action to protect the city’s patrimony. He promised protection for the shopfronts and the interior fittings, but could not offer help to the businesses. Special measures to limit the ways in which these shops can be altered physically have been applied to nearly 400 establishments. Whether there will be any help from the Ajuntament for the businesses themselves is still under discussion.
According to many shop owners this is too little, too late. And, given that the deadline was established some 20 years ago it does seem that negotiations have been left to the eleventh hour. Some places had more foresight, including the Granja Viader near Santa María del Pi, Pastissería La Colmena in Pl. del Ángel and the Bolívar metal shop on Rambla Catalunya. These businesses have reached agreements with their landlords, enabling them to stay in their premises. A few others have got off lightly, such as the Cerería Subirà which is housed in a building owned by the government and has been given a 10-year extension on its lease.
While the local government works out what to do, the clock keeps ticking. No one knows for certain what will happen at the end of December and whether any solution will be found that can keep everyone happy. One thing is for sure though, every shop that closes is a door closed on a small part of the city’s history.
For a full list of the city’s emblematic shops and information about their history, visit: www.emblematics.es