• Spain's news in English

Rent hikes threaten Spain's unique shops

AFP · 19 Dec 2014, 11:00

Published: 19 Dec 2014 11:00 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

On Madrid's main shopping street, the Gran Vía, a toy shop that has sold handmade dolls since it opened in 1942 just after Spain's Civil War, is preparing to close after the Christmas rush.

Dolls decked out in classical clothes overflow in the large window of the shop, which is mentioned in several guide books to the city and attracts tourists who snap pictures of the display.

"Thank you for 72 years", reads a sign in the window.

A doll shop on Madrid's Gran Vía prepares to close after 72 when a huge rent hike comes into force after Christmas. Photo: Gerard Julien / AFP

While business has held up during Spain's economic downturn, the shop, owned by the same family since it opened, can't afford a sharp rise in its rent that will come into force when decades of rent controls stop at the end of the year. It will shut its doors in January.

"I grew up here. Emotionally it's very hard," said Susana Ezharriaga, 46, who runs the shop along with her four siblings, as employees unloaded a final shipment of dolls which sell for up to €300 ($370) each from boxes.

They pay a monthly rent of around €10,000 but the shop owners are asking for €35,000 once the rent control ends at the end of December - an amount she said only a big international chain can afford.

The siblings have convinced their landlord to let them stay in the shop until the Feast of Epiphany in January 6th, the main yuletide celebration in Spain when gifts are opened, so they can make the most of their biggest sales period of the year.

They will then try to find a less expensive location away from the centre where they can set up a new version of their store, which was founded by their great-grandmother.

The store is not the only independent retailer facing its last Christmas season thanks to the end of rent controls.

Across Spain about 200,000 shops, bars and restaurants are affected and 65,000 to 70,000 could be forced to close, according to UPTA, the professional and autonomous workers' union that represents independent store owners. Most are family-run businesses.

About 200,000 jobs will be lost as each shop employs around three people, it adds.

"The city will completely change, we will lose the history of neighbourhoods, of the city," said UPTA secretary Cesar Garcia.

"Spain's high streets, its main streets, will all be the same with big chains like Zara, McDonalds, Burger King. There will be nothing that makes them different. It is bad for tourism."

Had 20 years to adapt

Spain's rent controls were adopted in 1964 during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco as a way to protect shopkeepers. Under a 1994 reform by a Socialist government rental contracts drawn up before 1985 were required to adjust to the market, with landlords and store owners given 20 years to agree on new terms.

The shops facing closure now are those that have not settled on a new rent they could afford.

"They had 20 years to adapt to the situation. During these 20 years some were able to adapt, others were not. Some were not aware of the change, others forgot it was going to happen," said urban planning professor Agustin Hernandez Aja of the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

The impact of the end of rent control will be felt most strongly in the historic centre of cities where landlords are able to charge astronomical rents that most independent shops cannot afford.

Several landmark shops in city centres have already closed their doors or moved away from main streets to less visible locations.

In August the Palacio del Juguete, or "Toy Palace", which for nearly 80 years has occupied the Portal de l'Angel, a pedestrian street in Barcelona's old town moved to a smaller shop away from the centre.

The shop was taken over by Italian shoemaker Geox which has nearly 1,300 shops around the world.

Story continues below…

Happening everywhere

Angel Manuel Garcia, the president of an association which represents about 160 centenarian and traditional shops in Madrid, estimates only 5 to 10 percent of the group's members can afford to pay the higher rents charged for places in the centre of the city.

"These are stores that give flavour to a city, that have some architectural value, that have something special," he said.

Shopkeepers and the main opposition Socialists have asked Spain's conservative government for the end of the rent controls to be put off for five more years but the request has fallen on deaf ears.

"Our country can't afford more closures and more job losses," Socialist lawmaker Patricia Blanquer said during a debate in parliament on Wednesday December 17th.

Aja, the urban planning professor, said chain stores were pushing independent retailers out of high streets in other major European cities like London and Paris.

"In a globalized world, the same thing is happening everywhere," he said. "It affects many symbolic places of the city that are a reference, and this attracts the media, but it is not like people were shopping in these stores everyday," he added.

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Recipe: How to make fabada - traditional Asturian bean stew
Photo: Flavio Lorenzo Sánchez/Flickr

The hearty Asturian dish is a perfect lunch on a cold day... and don't forget the crusty bread and cider!

Brit 'paedo' held on Costa del Sol after Most Wanted appeal

One of Britain's most wanted fugitives was arrested on the Costa Del Sol following a tip-off from an expat just hours after his face appeared on a public appeal.

Spain's parliament approves deficit reduction measures
Photo: Images Money/Flickr

Spanish lawmakers approved on Thursday measures to reduce the public deficit and keep it under the target agreed with the European Union.

'Cubism and War' show opens at Barcelona Picasso Museum
Pablo Picasso Harlequin and Woman with a Necklace. Photo: MP

Barcelona's Picasso Museum unveiled an exhibition on "Cubism and War" on Thursday depicting how one of the most influential artistic styles of the 20th century survived the First World War.

Why this bionic limb pioneer doesn't believe in disability
Hugh Herr has been award Spain's top science prize. Photo: FPA

The Local speaks to Hugh Herr on winning Spain's top science prize and how being an amputee doesn't make him disabled.

Dine in the buff at Spain's first nudist restaurant
A buffet of organic food will be served on "human tables". Photo: Innato / Facebook

Spain's first naked dining experience is to arrive on the island of Tenerife following the success of a similar venture in London.

Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Photo: AFP

Spain's Constitutional Court on Thursday cancelled a bullfighting ban in Catalonia in what is likely to exacerbate tensions between Madrid and the separatist region, and between animal activists and fans of the tradition.

Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Eta members made a ceasefire declaration in January, 2011. Photo: Gara / AFP

Five years after armed separatist group Eta declared a permanent ceasefire, Basque journalist Alberto Letona is still wondering when the dialogue will begin.

Hunt for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Call Crimestoppers if you recognize these faces.

These fugitives from British justice are thought to be hiding out in Spain. Do you recognize anyone?

Eta 'not dead' but Spain focus moves onto jihadism
Archive photo of a pro-mural in the Basque Country. Photo: AFP

Five years after Eta quit violence, the Basque separatist group has yet to dissolve but it poses little threat and authorities have shifted their focus to fight jihadists, says Spain's chief anti-terrorism prosecutor.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
Bison found decapitated on Valencia nature reserve
Forgotten Voices: What Brits in Spain think about Brexit
One dead and 14 injured in blast at Spanish resort
Game of Thrones want extras 'with muscles' to film in Spain
Thousands march in Madrid to push for bullfighting ban
jobs available