Features | Old shops
Traditional Shops in extinction
A narrow street carved with the pace of thousands of souls that crosses the old city of Barcelona. Old buildings built of stone and bricks that soar to a hardly visible sky, hide a little jewel that passes unnoticed for a mass of pedestrians who speak hundreds of languages like if it where a modern Tower of Babel. Only a slight glimpse or the curiosity of someone returns a fraction of the sparkle that this small jewel, a small shop, had in some moment of the past.
A shop that dresses the outside with a haggard facade, while in the inside shows the yellowed wall paper and the worn out furniture aged by time or perhaps simply a passing fashion.
Shops that sometimes were inherited generation after generation like the one of Asunción Quevedo, 'Almacenes del Pilar', who remembers how “All my family lived and died in the small apartment of this store, I still remember how the day of my wedding I left it dressed as a bride walking on a long carpet that we laid for the occasion.”
But “progress” slowly killed all of what ceases to be profitable. Urban changes in the historic center of the cities, the cancellation of the old rental contracts, the large retailers with long opening hours, and above all, the accelerated life style, the rush that has invaded all and has washed away the good habit of doing things with ease: “The clients who still come are those who want a personal treatment and like to smell the product, something that in a supermarket can not be done. They are mainly elder people from the neighborhood. Now I see how record, tattoo, and clothe shops are installing all around me... things are changing. It is a changing future where no one knows if they will be able to survive, that is the truth, they are suffering a heavy competence with the Pelayo street (a commercial street nearby). I see an uncertain future.” Says Enric Blasco who was the owner of a small perfume store in the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona.
These shops, where the living experiences could be shared beyond the business, a place where people could express their concerns and receive advice, because the skill within the profession was important and the dedication to each client was highly valued as the manager of El Indio, Victor Riera, states: “The shop had a worker who's task was to know the client and guide him according to his needs... each of them had their personal tender.”
Shops who's counters talk of History and little stories, which talk about good and bad times, about lives in the neighborhood and scenes that remind us that we were people moved by human impulses and feelings, like what happened to the mother of Joan Mila, and how the last tender of a small shoe shop that stood in the Carme street remembers: “During an air-raid that took place during the Spanish Civil War, a bomb fell on our building damaging our home and the shop. Days after, in the rush of my mother to fix the damages, she hired the services of a worker to fix things up a bit. One day, while working in the shop, a new air-ride took place, and my mother, in order to seek for protection, locked the doors without letting the worker leave. This man felt very upset with her for not letting him leave. A few days after he came back and apologized because that day he learned how a bomb fell on his workshop killing all who were there at the time.”
Owners and shop keepers who worked as a family, who explain how they had to sleep on those counters, or even on a higher flat looking through a spy-hole to see if someone entered the shop. The same people that remember with a smile how someone famous stopped and visited them, as the painter Joan Miro did once and a while at the antique shop owned by Benet Rouse to ask him about his art studies. Shops that keep in their memory one thousand neighborhood secrets and stories and shop owners and tenders who remember with sorrow how the neighborhood shifted from: “A familiar environment where people use to talk on the doorsteps, where all participated collectivity in any celebrations that would take place, etc.” as Jaime Bellini from the Principe book shop remembers, to a touristic or immigration nightmare for some.
Traditional old shops that are disappearing, perhaps for not wanting or simply for not knowing how to adapt to the new times. Only because their owners did not want to loose the essence that made them necessary. A tradition that hardly can sustain a family and that is being swept away by progress, absorbed by the truth of what today has become just History.
Text: Elisa Pavón/Xabier Mikel Laburu