Regulation-flouting souvenir shops in post-covid Barri Gòtic
Quarter of premises stay closed while around thirty more stores for tourists pop up
BarcelonaThere are as many as 25 premises with their shutters down, seven of them sporting to-let signs, in a stretch of just over 300 metres between the Rambla and Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona. Some are boarded up and full of graffiti after staying closed for months. Carrer Ferran is a prime example of the devastation the pandemic has wrought on the Barcelona's Barri Gòtic. The situation, despite not representing the neighbourhood as a whole – where around 75% of shops have reopened, according data collected by Barnacentre – is better than the one described by this newspaper last spring, when almost twice as many shops were closed. But neighbours and shopkeepers in the area complain that the pandemic has finished off long-standing bars and shops, and brought in even more shops selling souvenirs (three on Carrer Ferran alone) or mobile phone cases (one taking the spot where last year a hardware store had opened).
Souvenirs and cases were already two of the most common types of business in the area before the pandemic, and now – despite the numerous debates on how to diversify the offer in the city centre - there are even more of them. The phenomenon is not exclusive to Carrer Ferran. Barnacentre calculates that since covid forced the closure of all shops, some thirty new souvenir establishments have opened in the Barri Gòtic as a whole. On Carrer Comtal many of the traditional stores have left and up to eight new souvenir shops have appeared, despite the fact that Barcelona City Council had placed a ban on new souvenir shops in tourist areas.
The new shops, as the city council itself admits, circumvent the ban by asking for a license as a clothes and accessories shop, omitting that most of the items they will sell will be Barça and Madrid t-shirts and scarves or clothes with supposedly funny phrases about partying in Barcelona. And there is no regulation to control what kind of clothes each shop sells. According to the regulation the City Council passed in 2018, stores that sell objects for tourists without being souvenir establishments as such ought to have them all in one place, and they may not represent more than 20% of the shelf space nor be visible from the street.
The price factor
"It's a shame," laments Teresa Llordés, president of Barnacentre, who assures that the monoculture of tourist establishments has increased with the pandemic and criticises the fact that not all the necessary checks are being carried out and neither has a "real debate" started on how to refocus the city centre: "The problem is that nothing has been done, we had a great possibility to sit down and assess what investments and regulations had to be made and nothing has been done." She also points out the responsibility of landlords who seek the highest bidder without paying attention to any other variables. This means that rents for shops on Carrer Ferran are between €7,000 and €9,000 for premises of about 100 square metres, as this newspaper has verified. We also found one in which the asking price was €160 per square metre.
"You can not rely only on landlords' good faith, they have to be forced in some way," defends Martí Cusó, of Barri Gòtic's neighbourhood association, convinced that the price factor of the premises is the "underlying problem" that explains the neighbourhood's current situation: the fact that only one type of business may have interest in opening up in the area. "The City Council has done nothing to change the model we had before the pandemic and is returning to trust the recovery to tourism and events such as the America's Cup," he criticises.
The weight of the price of the premises in the revival of the area is clear if you compare what is happening on Carrer Ferran Street and what has occurred on Carrer Call, where covid also caused many businesses to close. However, there are now only two premises advertised "To Let". Here, rents are lower and new shoe stores, movie shops and a tobacconist have opened – the only point in common with Carrer Ferran.
The Call-Ferran contrast
"One street and the other have nothing to do with each other. In Carrer Call, there are more attractive proposals," says Àngela Calvet, who has a leather goods shop that open onto both sides and is the president of the area's shopkeepers' association. But she does criticises both streets for the "lack of municipal maintenance". She considers that now it would be necessary to "take more care" of the street to make it more attractive and launches proposals such as using the windows of closed stores as display windows for open shops, to avoid the image of "decadence of the lowered blinds and graffiti everywhere".
Carrer Ferran's Hotel Rialto, however, is about to reopen after over two years boarded up. It expects to start receiving customers from April 11. And the premises that housed historic pharmacy La Estrella, which opened in 1840 and closed last year, after the landlord refused to renew the lease, is now getting ready to reopen as a ham chain store.