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'Barcelona's oldest shops could soon be history'

Steve Tallantyre · 24 Feb 2014, 13:45

Published: 24 Feb 2014 13:45 GMT+01:00

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Many of Barcelona's oldest shops have shut down for good in recent months and up to 12 per cent more face ruin with long-term fixed rental agreements coming to an end in the city centre.

A twenty-year moratorium that protected rents is expiring at the end of 2014 and business owners must renegotiate their agreements at the going market rate with building owners.

Some contracts are predicted to rise to €21,000 ($29,000) a month.

And with international chains prepared to pay up to 700 per cent more than the current rents to secure retail premises on the city's most famous streets, critics are concerned Barcelona will lose its appeal to visitors.

Colmado Quilez, a wood-fronted delicatessen on the corner of Carrer Aragó and Rambla de Catalunya,  has sold a curious assortment of gourmet products and alcoholic liquors since 1908.

It has been run by the same family for over 50 years but its owners say that it will be unable to compete with global luxury brands who are keen to take over the prestigious location.

Another under threat is La Colmena Pastisseria which has sold meringues and pastries to sweet-toothed Barcelona residents in Plaça de l'Àngel since 1864.

The Barcelona Association of Emblematic Shops have appealed for help to prevent the disappearance of shops which have strong emotional significance for Barcelona citizens.

One of the causes they have asked people to rally behind is that of the chocolate maker Fargas and its next door neighbour, the Monge rare stamp shop.

Locals have been buying hand-made chocolates from Fargas at the same shop in Ciutat Vella (the old city) since 1827.

The two businesses are under threat not only from rising rents but also from a plan to redevelop the area into a commercial centre, according to local daily La Vanguardia.

Hotels have also backed the campaign to save the city's historic shops, saying that they are an important feature and help to attract visitors.

The city's Mayor, Xavier Trias, has responded with a plan expected to be officially announced on Wednesday which would affect four hundred and fifty four historic shops.

It is expected to include measures to temporarily suspend the issuance of new licences for building work or new activities on the named premises, effectively granting the current leasers a reprieve.

But amendments to local legislation, which would specifically protect certain businesses, have not been included in the plan.

Help is instead restricted to the offer of "business advice" courses lasting three hours and a service "to clean and maintain the signs on their shop fronts."

Councillor Raimond Blasi said, "We cannot prevent some businesses from closing, nor can we prevent landlords changing their rents."

Story continues below…

Local law must comply with anti-interventionist European regulations, making wholesale protective measures difficult.

But in Paris and Rome, some historic premises and businesses are covered by regulations which shield them from extinction.  

The president of the Association of Emblematic Shops, Josep Maria Roig, described Trias's plan in El País newspaper as "too little, too late".

He added that it was "watered down" and "insufficient".

The issue is scheduled to be officially debated in Barcelona's city hall on February 28th.

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Steve Tallantyre (news@thelocal.es)

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