Society 09/04/2021

Raval pride: "We have everything here, I wouldn't leave"

Trade in and around Joaquim Costa street is vindicated in the middle of crisis and the area copes better with the pandemic than the touristy centre

4 min
Moviment in Joaquim Costa street, in the Arrabal district of Barcelona

BarcelonaClosed shops in and around Joaquim Costa street in the Raval district of Barcelona are the exception, fewer than one in ten. Most shops are weathering the crisis as best they can, helped by local consumption and by the same network they have created among themselves, despite the fact that the moment is not easy and income has plummeted like everywhere else. The image, however, is far from that offered by some streets of the neighbouring Gothic Quarter, much more doomed to the tourist monoculture and lacking in neighbours, where the pandemic has closed - temporarily or permanently - 30% of businesses, according to data from Barnacentre. The collapse is more intense in very central streets like Ferran Street, and it has called into question the sustainability of the model. The Raval, on the other hand, has plenty of residents, with 42,669 inhabitants per square kilometre - twice as many as the Gothic Quarter - and is one of the most densely populated areas of the city and also one of the most diverse: 60% of its residents were born abroad. And the area of Joaquim Costa is an unusual sight of commercial vitality.

"It's very much a neighbourhood, we have everything here. I wouldn't change it for any other: the Raval is a real draw", praises Lídia Matos, the enthusiastic owner of vintage furniture shop Fusta'm, on Joaquim Costa, and instigator, along with photographer Maria Dias, of the campaign to bring out the neighbourhood pride of shopkeepers in the area, tired of the Raval only being talked about for negative things.

Now they have posed smiling for the series of portraits that Dias has made on the street with the aim of launching an optimistic message and to give a new impetus to the traders' association, renamed Raval West to "ironise a little with the idea of a wild west that is given to the neighbourhood," they explain. Here, unlike what happens in shopping streets like Pelai or Portal de l'Àngel, it is usually the person in charge of the business behind the counter, who also looks after their regulars. And the neighbourhood economy is maintained, grabbing a coffee next door while keeping an eye on the shop.

Xavier Rodríguez and Raquel Llanes, from café Departure

There are plenty of small food and telephone shops, many run by people of Pakistani origin, but also craft workshops and shops that offer unique products, such as Casimiro, a classic dance goods shop, or the shop where you can find the newspaper of the day you were born. And also traditional bars of, such as Casa Almirall, one of the oldest and best preserved of the city, which now, as laments its owner, Pere Pina, has to reinvent itself serving tapas at weekends, waiting to be able to return to work as a cocktail bar and get the workers out of furlough. The current restrictions, he says with resignation, make the business completely unviable.

Pere Pina, from Casa Almirall

As a veteran of the area -he has been there for 45 years-, he has seen all the lives of the Raval, from the ravages of heroin in the 80s - "You can try everything, but not heroin, heroin kills", he warns, to the recent crisis of the narco-flats, and now the restrictions of the pandemic that have left him in a very delicate situation: "We haven't been able to open as a cocktail bar for more than a year".

The possibility of outside seating

For other premises in the area that are less focused on nightlife, such as the Departure café on Carreró de la Verge, the pandemic, despite having left them operating at 50% capacity, has also brought good things, such as the possibility of having outside seating, which they didn't have before and which has made them more visible in the neighbourhood. "There are many people who have discovered us now," explains Raquel Llanes, who recalls how the third year the cafe is running, which was to be the consolidation of the business, was the thwack of the pandemic, but that covid - and outside seats - has also helped to energize the street and make themselves known. What happens on the ground floor, is essential for the street's feeling of cleanliness and safety, traders argue. And in Raval, they regret, too often they find "excessive administrative obstacles" and exorbitant rents, as criticised Lídia Matos, from Fusta'm store, convinced that lockdown has made the importance of having activity in premises more evident.

Lídia Matos, from Fusta'm

"The pandemic has made us more visible, the neighbours have become more aware that we are here and the importance of consuming close by and not elsewhere," explains Mar Gonzalez, of the shop-workshop Novedades, in Peu de la Creu street, next to Joaquim Costa. She opened the establishment in 2004 to share a workshop with a friend and since then, she says, the area has been changing and other workshops have moved in, such as Imanol's lights workshop, or others for ceramics or t-shirt printing: "The street has become very active in recent years and now the pandemic has brought us closer to the neighbourhood".

Mar González, at the door of Novedades workshop

They want the revival of the traders' association, which will officially keep the name Ponent i Rodalies - after the old name of the street - to also help extend the links between the businesses at different ends of the street. They also want to relaunch an Instagram account, where so far there are only two photos and 29 followers - far fewer than the 51 members of the association. Now they will make it beautiful, a symbol of the new stage of the association, which already began to move, before the pandemic, with some popular meals in the street, which brought back the neighbourhood spirit of many years ago.