All these were located within the old town, the Raval/Barri Gótic/El Born triangle that has since become the hottest tourist destination in Europe. For some time now, they have been disappearing – a disturbing phenomenon widely discussed in local media and yesterday picked up by the The New York Times.
Most of these places are/were family run and trading in commodities that have long since lost out to the internet or modern, ‘lifestyle’ stores; books, traditional toys and scratchy everyday bed linen and towels. After 20 years of rent protection, their monthly rate has risen – quite a lot. In the same period, tourism in Barcelona has exploded –and their prime stomping (and shopping) ground is the Ciutat Vella. This has created an imperfect storm. In one case, a toy trader was forced to pack up after his rent rose from 1,000 euros per month to 35,000. (It is now occupied buy Geox, which I can’t decide is a sign of just how much passing trade there is this street or how much people love those ugly shoes).
Like the story in the Times, many commentators see the disappearance of these unique historic shops as just another sign of the ‘selling out’ of the old town to the tourist dollar – and the adversity this has on local residents. However I am not sure this is true – and it doesn’t explain why many of them, such as this old nut roaster and herb trader, are still doing extremely well thank you. Couldn’t the traditional toyshops have started to introduce ‘designer toys’ for the adult market? How about a coffee corner in those dusty old bookshops? As a New Yorker friend (who lives in Barcelona) so succinctly put it, ‘If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen’.
To me, the greater loss is one of patrimony. When a global chain takes over, you can bet your bottom euro that a leadlight shop front or wrought iron window frame will be end up in the skip lest it interfere with their brand’s I.D. So far, the city’s authorities have been pretty useless as enforcing preservation laws on commercial property (Just last weekend I went on search for one of my favorite modernista pharmacies – it’s gone). But perhaps this has always been the case. In a city where art nouveau was one of its defining artistic movements, why is there only one café and the same number of restaurants in the style still in existence? Whist in Brussels and Paris they are everywhere…